Successful slogans can make a world of difference. In Vietnam, a catchphrase for a climate-smart way to produce rice has shown small farmers how they can boost rice profitability, while also reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
The World Bank discovered this through an Agriculture Competitiveness Project in Vietnam, which championed an alternate wetting and drying rice production technique that uses less water, reduction in application of fertilizers and management of crop residues to reduce the level of methane and nitrous oxide emissions from the rice fields. Adopting this climate-smart practice required the systematic engagement of the entire community committed to draining the rice fields multiple times over a matter of weeks, something traditionally rarely done. Adopting this alternate wetting and drying technique not only helps strengthen plant roots but also reduces flooding periods which translates into reduced methane production.
At the core of the encyclical is both a concern for the health of the planet and for the earth’s poor, reflected in a commitment to social values and integrity, environmental resilience, and economic inclusion.
The stock-taking begins, aptly, with pollution: “Some forms of pollution are part of people’s daily experience. Exposure to atmospheric pollutants produces a broad spectrum of health hazards, especially for the poor, and causes millions of premature deaths.” The World Bank’s latest edition of the Little Green Data Book finds indeed that in low and middle-income countries, 86% of the residents are exposed to air pollution levels (measured in exposure particulate matter less than 2.5 microns in diameter) that exceed World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines. The WHO last year made headlines when it calculated that 7 million people had died prematurely from indoor and outdoor air pollution in 2012. From safer cookstoves in rural areas, to better air quality management in fast growing cities, this is an area where solutions are known and must be urgently applied.
In a joint post, World Bank Director for Climate Change James Close teams up with Environment and Natural Resources Global Practice Senior Director Paula Caballero and Health, Nutrition and Population Global Practice Senior Director Tim Evans to comment on a new report released by The Lancet, which touches upon aspects of each of their portfolios and underscores the value in working collaboratively toward development solutions.
In a new report released today, the Lancet Commission on Health and Climate Change tells us that “tackling climate change could be the greatest global health opportunity of the 21st century.”
Among its recommendations, it calls on governments to invest in climate change and public health research and monitoring and surveillance, and to scale-up financing for climate-resilient health systems worldwide.
At the World Bank, we couldn’t agree more.
Every year, we lose 24 billion tons of fertile soil to erosion and 12 million hectares of land to desertification and drought. This threatens the lives and livelihoods of 1.5 billion people now.
In the future,. Land degradation could also reduce global food production by up to 12% and push world food prices up by 30%. In Egypt, Ghana, Central African Republic, Pakistan, Tajikistan and Paraguay, land degradation could cause an annual GDP loss of up to 7%.
Pressure on land resources is expected to increase as populations grow, socio-economic development happens and the climate changes. A growing population will demand more food, which means that unsuitable or especially biodiverse land will be claimed for farming and be more vulnerable to degradation. Increased fertilizer and pesticide use related to agriculture will increase nutrient loading in soils, causing eutrophication and declines in fertility over time.—especially in drylands, which occupy 40% of global land area, and are inhabited by some 2 billion people. Urban areas, which are located in the world’s highly fertile areas, could grow to account for more than 5% of global land by mid-century.
Unless we manage our land better, every person will rely on just .11 hectares of land for their food; down from .45 hectares in 1960.
Over the past several weeks, we have made headway in our efforts to reduce deforestation and promote sustainable land use as part of a broader World Bank Group approach to combat climate change. Partnering with the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF), the Democratic Republic of Congo has taken a major step by assessing its readiness for a large-scale initiative in which developing forested countries keep their forests standing and developed countries pay for the carbon that is not released into the atmosphere. Likewise, other countries in the 47-country FCPF partnership are making strides in their efforts to prepare for programs that mitigate greenhouse gas emission and support sustainable forest landscapes.
This approach is also known as REDD+, or reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation. Active REDD+ programs can help reduce the 20 percent of carbon emissions that come from forest loss and simultaneously provide support to the 60 million people, including indigenous communities, who are wholly dependent on forests.
Poaching African elephants for ivory provides a case in point. Elephant poaching has sharply increased since 2006. We may now be losing up to 50,000 elephants per year with only 450,000 elephants remaining in Africa. In short, we are running out of time and unless we can stop the killing, we will surely lose the battle. Decreasing demand for ivory is vital over the long term, but the scale of current elephant losses makes this strategy too slow to save elephants by itself. The ecological, economic and security consequences from the loss of this keystone species will be quite severe and potentially irreversible.
But let me make something clear on behalf of the World Bank: The focus on fisheries is a focus on creating pathways out of poverty that will keep people out of poverty and enable dignified lives. About 1 billion people in developing countries rely on seafood as a primary source of animal protein, and millions of jobs are linked to fisheries. Along the value chain, many of the jobs are held by women. The ocean is also a major sink for greenhouse gases and the fate of growing coastal populations is tied to the state of natural coastline defenses against extreme weather events. The emerging concept of blue economy and blue growth rests at the heart of our main development challenges: feeding, providing jobs to and generally improving the lives of a growing population in a changing climate.
Awareness is certainly progressing. From the streets of Sao Paulo, Brazil - a country that hosts nothing less than the mighty Amazon River, to the farmlands of California, people are coming to the realization that resources such as water are not limitless. More and more businesses are looking at the security of their supply chains and the footprint of their operations with zeal fueled by self-interest. And countries seem poised to adopt Sustainable Development Goals that signal an understanding that economic, social and environmental issues are inherently interdependent.
Climate change, water shortages and other environmental crises are bringing home the message loud and clear: we need to connect the dots between human actions across the landscape and seascape, or the earth will cease to care for us. It will cease to grow food, to store water, to host fish and pollinators, to provide energy, medicine and timber. Changing temperatures will stress systems already overwhelmed by unsustainable patterns of production and consumption, while a growing middle class will further strain planetary boundaries.
How can we help economies develop better, for lasting poverty reduction and prosperity, within the limits of natural resources? How can we make more rational use of natural and financial resources to maximize social and economic benefits and reduce carbon emissions while increasing our resilience to climate extremes?