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Environment

Seeing the impact of forest fires in South Sumatra: a view from the field

Ann Jeannette Glauber's picture
Also available in: Bahasa Indonesia
Indonesia, burned forest. photo by Ann Jeannette Glauber / World Bank

This past autumn, I saw a shocking headline: Forest fires in Indonesia were creating as many greenhouse gas emissions as the entire United States economy.
 
Between June and October 2015, an estimated 2.6 million hectares—or 4.5 times the size of Bali— burned to clear land for production  of palm oil, the world’s highest value non-timber forest crop, used in food products, cosmetics, biofuels.
 
Recently, along with Vice President for Sustainable Development Laura Tuck and Indonesia Country Director Rodrigo Chaves, I visited South Sumatra, one of the provinces hardest hit by the fires.
 
We saw scrubby fire-adapted landscapes that had replaced biodiversity-rich peat swamp forests.
 
We spoke with local communities who explained how they covered doors and windows with wet towels, to help reduce the smoke.  These families are among the half million people who suffered from fire-related respiratory infections, skin and eye ailments; their children were among the 4.6 million students who missed school last year due to fires, some for weeks at a time.
 
While some of these families lost earnings or assets due to the fires, others spoke of how fire improves soil quality. 
 

Lead pollution robs children of their futures

Ernesto Sanchez-Triana's picture
Vicki Francis/Department for International Development

When the water is poor, people get sick: they have diarrhea; their growth is stunted; they die. When the air is poor, people get sick: they cough; they cannot leave their beds; they die. However, they do not look sick when there is lead in their blood. You cannot look at a child who has an unhealthy blood lead level (BLL) and say, "This is not right. Something must be done," because in most cases, there is nothing to see.

Lead (Pb) exposure—which is making headlines in the U.S. because of recent events in Flint, Michigan-- is a major source of critical environmental health risks. But the problem is subtle: Affected children do not perform as well in school. They are late to read. They are slow to learn how to do tasks. Perhaps a few more children are born with cognitive deficits. Perhaps these children have less impulse control. Perhaps they exhibit more violence.

These symptoms are not always understood as an environmental or a public health problem – or indeed a development problem. Instead, people will say it is an issue of morals or of education. They will discipline the children, and then they will take themselves to task and ask how and why they are failing to raise these children correctly. Furthermore, they will have no idea that the problem is in the children’s blood.

Young children are particularly vulnerable to lead exposure. Studies have documented that exposure leads to neuropsychological impacts in children--including impaired intelligence, measured as intelligence IQ losses--at blood lead levels even lower than 5 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood (µg/dL).  So, clearly, the effect occurs at even very low BLLs. 

On the “Road to Resilience”: protecting India’s coastal communities against natural disasters

Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez's picture
Teams from the World Bank and the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR) have embarked on a 40-day, 10,000-km journey along the entire Indian coastline. The objective of this "Road to Resilience" trip is to support the implementation of 6 coastal disaster management and climate resilience projects covering all 10 coastal states of India. Some of those projects aim to enhance resilience and mitigate the impact of future disasters, while others are intended to help the country recover from previous events such as Cyclone Phailin (2013) and Cyclone Hudhud (2014).
 
The "Road to Resilience" initiative is also a unique opportunity to raise awareness about risk mitigation and to interact more directly with local communities, who play a crucial role in preventing and responding to disaster.
 
In this video, Ede Ijjasz and Saurabh Dani take you on the road with them to showcase some of the work the World Bank is doing to protect India's costal states against natural hazards.

The (actual and scientifically derived) healing power of the sea

Timothy Bouley's picture
 USFWS/Jim Maragos

This week is unique. December 1 was World AIDS Day –a moment to unite with the community touched by HIV and push forward in the fight. December 4 is Ocean Day at COP21 – an opportunity to advance the global ocean and climate agenda toward meaningful impact and action. Two important days with two very different purposes. And yet, each significant in commemorating critical causes that are often just outside the realm of everyday consideration. But it is not only this marginality that links them– and understanding this connection can only strengthen our imperative to act. 

Growing resilient forest landscapes in the face of climate change

Paula Caballero's picture
Also available in: Français | Español
Andrea Borgarello for World Bank/TerrAfrica

Playing out this week and next in Paris is a high-stakes match between science and political will.
 
The science part is quite clear: 2015 is set to be the hottest year on record – a full degree over pre-industrial averages. Climate change is already taking a toll on countries. Add to that we have El Nino wreaking havoc in many parts of the world.  And it is going to get warmer.
 
The political analysis is more complicated. On the one hand, if the national plans, the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) drawn up by countries to tackle climate change were implemented, including actions that have been conditioned on available finance, this would likely put the planet on about a 2.7 C degree trajectory that would be catastrophic for the economic, social and natural systems on which we depend.  Clearly more needs to be done. On the other hand, it is a sign of welcome progress. The fact that almost all the world’s countries (Carbon Brief tracks 184 climate pledges to date) have put forward INDCs is a remarkable feat many would have considered impossible just a few years ago.  So there is progress, just not fast enough.
 
Paris should be seen as an important milestone in an arduous journey– a platform for generating an ever upward spiral of ambition in many fields of climate action.
 
One area that promises innumerable wins for people and the planet is land use change, agriculture, and forestry. Together these sectors account for about 24 percent of global emissions, but represent a much greater share of emissions in many developing countries. A preliminary analysis of INDCs shows strong commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation, forest degradation, land use change and agriculture. And there is evidence of a growing appetite for landscape restoration measures in many of those countries. 

On the importance of snow and joint climate action in Central Asia

Kulsum Ahmed's picture
Kyrgyz Republic / World Bank

If you think about it, snow is a pretty amazing thing. It is nature’s way of storing water in the winter, and then using it in the summer when it is needed, namely during the growing season. If it gets too warm, the water does not stay locked up as snow till the summer. Too much warmth also means that more snow and ice may melt than usual, resulting in floods. But at the same time, if the water comes down the mountain too abundantly and too early, there may not be enough water during the growing season, causing drought-like conditions.

 
Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan are among the Europe and Central Asia Region’s most vulnerable countries to climate change. In these five landlocked Central Asian countries, water resources depend on glaciers and snow pack. In this region, we have already seen average annual temperatures increase since the mid-20th century by 0.5°C in the south to 1.6°C in the north, and impacts are already being observed, from melting glaciers in upland areas (where glaciers have lost one-third of their volume since the 1900s), to droughts and floods in the lowlands (where weather-related disasters are estimated to cause economic losses from 0.4 to 1.3 percent of Gross Domestic Product per year for Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Kyrgyz Republic, for instance).
 
The future looks even more challenging. According to a World Bank report Turn Down the Heat: Confronting the New Climate Normal,” the region’s glaciers, which account today for 10 percent of the annual stream flow in the Amu Darya and Syr Darya basins, are projected to lose up to 50 percent in volume in a 2°C warmer world, and potentially up to 75 percent in a 4°C warmer world. Melting glaciers and a shift in the timing of rivers’ flow will result in a lot more water in the rivers but this excess availability will not be in sync with growing season’s water needs.  In the second half of the century, there would then be too little water flow in the rivers when the glacier volume is reduced.  The timing of peak flow of key rivers is projected to shift towards spring with a 25 percent reduction in flow during the critical crop growing season. The report also projects increased heat extremes which mean more of a reliance on irrigated agriculture (the report projects a 30 percent increase in irrigation demand) leading to an increase in water demand, exactly when water availability becomes more unpredictable. In this region, water is also connected to energy security, given the reliance on hydropower, creating further challenges.

What El Niño teaches us about climate resilience

Francis Ghesquiere's picture
It was recorded by the Spanish conquistadors, and triggered famines that have been linked to China’s 1901 Boxer Rebellion and even the French revolution.

Named by Peruvian fishermen because of its tendency to appear around Christmastime, El Niño is the planet’s most large-scale and recurring mode of climate variability. Every 2-7 years, a slackening of trade winds that push sun-warmed water across the Pacific contributes to a rise in water temperature across large parts of the ocean. As the heat rises, a global pattern of weather changes ensues, triggering heat waves in many tropical regions and extreme drought or rainfall in others.

The fact that we are undergoing a major El Niño event should cause major concern and requires mobilization now. Already, eight provinces in the Philippines are in a state of emergency due to drought; rice farmers in Vietnam and Thailand have left fields unplanted due to weak rains; and 42,000 people have been displaced by floods in Somalia.

And this is before the event reaches its peak. Meteorologists see a 95% chance of the El Niño lasting into 2016, with its most extreme effects arriving between now and March. Coastal regions of Latin America are braced for major floods; India is dealing with a 14% deficit in the recent monsoon rains; and poor rainfalls could add to insecurity in several of Africa’s fragile states. Indeed, Berkeley Professor Soloman Hsiang has used historical data to demonstrate that the likelihood of new conflict outbreaks in tropical regions doubles from 3% to 6% in an El Niño year.

But despite its thousand-year history, the devastation associated with El Niño is not inevitable. Progress made by many other countries since the last major event, in 1997-98, shows that we can get a grip on its effect – and others caused by climate trends.

Making the risky business of agriculture ‘climate-smart’

Vikas Choudhary's picture

Farmers harvest crops in Madagascar.

Agriculture is an inherently risky business.  From natural disasters and erratic rainfall to pests, few other sectors are as exposed or as vulnerable to shocks.
 
Climate change is a source of significant risks for agricultural and food systems: Climate projections suggest that average growing conditions will shift and there will be more uncertainty in predicting climate and weather conditions. More concretely, these impacts will translate into an overall warming trend, an increasingly erratic distribution of precipitation, more frequent and more devastating extreme weather events, and spatial shifts in the occurrence of pests and diseases. These impacts can cause production losses which lead to market volatility and in some cases, reactionary shifts in policies and regulations. 

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