With its scenarios of increasing risks as a result of climate change – from sea level rise to disappearing fish populations, food insecurity, and forest diebacks from extreme heat – the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) paints a picture of a complicated future where no one gets by unscathed, where existing vulnerabilities are exacerbated, and where, as Fred Pearce so aptly puts it, we need to “prepare for the worst.”
But, as the scientists rightly point out, it doesn’t have to be like this.
Climate change, the report concludes, is a challenge in managing risks and planning under increased uncertainty. It says the effects of climate change that have already occurred are widespread and “consequential”. Its emphasis on risk makes plain that the world is largely ill-prepared for climate risks.
It is not the job of the IPCC scientists to propose solutions, but scalable solutions are close at hand. The challenges are replication, the pace of innovation, and how quickly behaviors can change.
Take the case of agriculture
As in the World Bank Group’s Turn Down the Heat reports, which warn of regular food shortages, particularly in Africa, the IPCC warns of significant risks to food security as weather patterns shift and in some cases become more extreme. Even more worrying, the scientists say crop yields will decline with or without adaptation.
How do we respond?
Today, we face a potential food cliff even before we arrive at the need to feed 9 billion people in 2050.
Climate change will exacerbate existing challenges and bring new ones. More than 840 million people are chronically undernourished. Food stocks have been declining as a percentage of what we now consume, and we have food price spikes and price volatility. One billion people rely on fish for their primary source of protein, a source that is under threat from warming and acidifying oceans. Changes in diet and consumption are driving a different demand. Increasing calories has a “multiplier” effect on food systems. For every 1 kilogram of change in demand for meat, up to 10 kilograms of additional feed are required, in some cases more. This puts more pressure on crop lands and forests and drives agricultural expansion. A food system where a quarter to a third of all food produced is lost or wasted adds to the problem.
And so we are expecting more food from fewer resources amid worsening water scarcity, land degradation, declining fish stocks, and high costs for food, feed, and fuel.
Climate change brings into immediate focus the need to improve livelihoods of those who produce our food, sustainably increase agricultural productivity, build resilience of food systems, improve nutrition outcomes, and curb the emissions profile of agricultural processes. This potential for greater security, productivity, sustainability, and emissions reduction people are calling climate-smart agriculture (CSA).
At the World Bank Group, we define CSA as increasing food and nutrition security by producing more food in ways that do not come at the expense of the environment and while generating higher incomes; enhancing resilience by reducing exposure to short-term risks and shocks, such as drought pests and disease; building better capacity to adapt and develop in the face of longer term stresses like shortened seasons and erratic weather patterns; building healthy ecosystems; and establishing a lower footprint by pursuing lower emissions for each calorie or kilogram produced, avoiding deforestation from agriculture and sucking carbon out of the atmosphere.
Over the past several months, we have been asking a series of “what if” questions in an effort to explore the potential of CSA to contribute to our goals of eradicating poverty, increasing prosperity while attacking climate change:
• What if all livestock farmers could become as efficient as the top 10 percent?
• What if the agroforestry spread across Africa?
• What if the world changed the way we grow rice and applied an alternate wetting and drying approach across the world?
This is the scale of ambition we need, collectively, to help manage the scenario the IPCC scientists warn of.
There is increasing support for a broad alliance on climate-smart agriculture. It is our hope that countries, companies, and others can work together to ensure that climate-smart agriculture has the transformative impact the world needs.
Be leaders for action
In September, the UN secretary-general will host a climate summit to build political momentum and raise our ambition for climate action. If we focus where it matters most, the focus must be on economic policies and financial innovation to spur and support leadership in agriculture or cities or energy systems or forest management.
In a little over a week, the World Bank Group will convene finance ministers at our Spring Meetings, in advance of the climate summit. We will urge them to be leaders for action at home, putting policy frameworks in place that respond to the ambition we all need if we are to engineer lower-carbon development and invest in our resilience. The heads of the World Bank, the United Nations, and the IMF are united in their understanding of the severity of risks posed by climate change. In many cities and countries, officials have started taking action and are seeing the rewards. Now, the world needs leaders worldwide to respond.
World Bank Group Vice President and Special Envoy, Climate Change
Photo: Farmer Hai Huynh Van is working with international agriculture research centers, including members of the CGIAR consortium, to test drought- and flood-resilient rice varieties in Vietnam. G.Smith/CIAT