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Carbon Bubbles & Stranded Assets

Vladimir Stenek's picture
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Packing an extraordinary amount of energy in little space, fossil fuels helped propel human development to levels undreamed of before the Industrial Revolution, from synthesizing fertilizers to powering space flight. But alongside energy, they produce health-damaging air pollutants and greenhouse gases.

Today, greenhouse gas emissions are higher than at any time in at least 800,000 years and rising, causing climate changes that threaten to reverse decades of development gains. Disruption of livelihoods, loss of food security, loss of marine and coastal ecosystems, breakdown of infrastructure, threats to global security: these are just a few of the risks identified in recent scientific reports.

In the absence of technology to permanently remove greenhouse gases and restore atmospheric concentration to safe levels, there is only one realistic solution: limiting additional emissions. It is estimated that to avoid the most damaging effects of climate change, over the next few decades we can at most emit a quantity equal to about 20 percent of total proven fossil fuel reserves.

Given fossil fuels’ omnipresence in our economies and lives, leaving them in the ground will have important implications, starting with the value of the very assets.

1 in 3: What Does It Take for You to Be Outraged?

Marina Galvani's picture

Circumstance © Hanifa AlizadaThe exhibition "1 in 3" was inspired by the work of a young Afghan photographer, Hanifa Alizada, and I picked her photo "Circumstance" for this blog as it conveys the painful march we are all on to fight this incredible level of violence against women worldwide. The exhibition highlights that this epidemic of violence does not single out any socioeconomic class. It knows no ethnicity, race, or religion. The scourge of violence against women and girls transcends international borders.
New research from the World Health Organization finds that some 35% of women worldwide — one in three — are subject to violence over the course of their lives, mostly at the hands of husbands or partners and at a huge personal and economic cost. 
Horrific events such as a gang rape on a bus seize headlines, but in fact no place is less safe for a woman than her own home. Estimates of lost productivity alone range from 1.5 to 2% of GDP, or roughly what most developing countries spend on primary education.
With "1 in 3," the World Bank Group Art Program seeks your engagement through art and encourages action to tackle gender-based violence.
This exhibition brings together hard data with some 80 nuanced, powerful artworks that explore the various ways in which violence affects the lives of women and girls around the world.
These works conveys the impact of domestic violence as experienced or witnessed by children, as in the paintings of Laben John of Papua New Guinea, and of sexual and gender-based violence as weapon of war, as in the sculpture of Freddy Tsimba from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Artist Nasheen Saeed of Pakistan depicts the deadening neglect so many girls suffer in their own families simply because they are girls.
Photographers Kay Cernush of the United States and Karen Robinson of the United Kingdom take on human trafficking with intimate portraits of young women lured abroad by the false promise of a better life. All help break the silence that often surrounds violence against women, encouraging survivors to stand up and speak out.

Statistical Earthquakes

Homi Kharas's picture

The New ICP Data and the Global Economic Landscape

The new report of the International Comparison Program published last week promises to invigorate debate about the global economic landscape. In some areas, the report challenges conventional wisdom. In other areas, it reinforces the narrative.

The headline change according to The Economist is the rise of China to potentially become the largest economy in the world by the end of 2014. According to Angus Maddison, the United States’ economy became the largest in the world in 1872, and has remained the largest ever since. The new estimates suggest that China’s economy was less than 14% smaller than that of the US in 2011. Given that the Chinese economy is growing more than 5 percentage points faster than the US (7 percent versus 2 percent), it should overtake the US this year. This is considerably earlier than what most analysts had forecast. It will mark the first time in history that the largest economy in the world ranks so poorly in per capita terms. (China stands at a mere 99th place on this ranking.)

Is Public Transport Affordable?

Julie Babinard's picture
When planning transport systems in developing countries, one of the main challenges is to evaluate the proportion of income spent by poorer households on transport as well as in understanding transport patterns in relation to residential location, travel distance and travel mode. High real estate prices in urban centers often force low-income households in developing countries to live farther out in the periphery, with consequences on the way urban agglomerations develop and with subsequent effects on the levels of motorization, congestion, local air pollution, physical activity and the expansion of urban poverty.

Replacing the car with a smartphone… Mobility in the shared economy

Shomik Mehndiratta's picture
Follow the author on Twitter: @shomik_raj

Photo: Sam Kittner / Capital Bikeshare
The sharing economy has been around for a long time. But recent technological advances like the development of real-time transactions through smartphones and credit cards have taken the potential of the shared economy to a whole new level, and opened the door for substantial changes in the way we think about urban mobility.

Recently, I was invited to join a panel on the sharing economy moderated by Prof. Susan Shaheen at UC Berkeley, focusing more specifically on shared mobility.

The panel acknowledged that shared mobility is already transforming the mobility landscape globally, but could go a lot further in increasing the sustainability of urban mobility systems. The panel identified a number of key research gaps that we need to pay close attention to if we want to create a policy environment that is conducive to mobility innovations. Three that I want to highlight are:
  • Supporting open data and open-source ecosystems is critical considering the tremendous potential of open-source software and data-sharing for improving transport planning, facilitating management and providing a better experience for transport users (for more detail, please see my previous blog on how the transport sector in Mexico is being transformed by open data)
  • Looking into shared-economy solutions for those at the bottom of the pyramid – solutions that don’t require credit cards and smartphones as prerequisites (see this blog on the bike-share system in Buenos Aires for a good example)
  • The world of driverless cars is coming – which, depending on how policy responds to it, could spell really good or really bad news for the environment: if such technology is used primarily in shared mobility scenarios, it could greatly reduce the environmental cost of motorized transport; on the other hand, the possibility of “empty trips” with zero-occupancy cars could exacerbate the worst elements of automobility (see Robin Chase’s blog in The Atlantic Cities for a great discussion on this). That is why it is critical to create a policy environment that appropriately prices the ‘bads’ of congestion, accidents and emissions while steering the world of driverless cars towards sharing and resource conservation.

Making the Case for Universal Health Coverage

Donna Barne's picture

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim, and Nigerian Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala at the Toward Universal Health Coverage by 2030 forum. © Simone D. McCourtie/World Bank

With people around the world struggling to afford health care, countries as diverse as Myanmar, Nigeria, Peru, Senegal, Kenya, South Africa, and the Philippines are warming to the idea of universal health coverage. This growing momentum was the subject of a high-profile Spring Meetings event examining the case for universal health coverage and the steps to get there.

Some 70 governments have asked the United Nations for help to achieve universal health coverage, said Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. He spoke at Toward Universal Health Coverage by 2030, co-sponsored by the World Bank and World Health Organization and moderated by the WHO Director-General Margaret Chan.

“We can celebrate the fact that virtually all mothers in Sweden survive childbirth,” Ban said. “But in South Sudan, one in seven pregnant women will not live to see their babies. Addressing this inequality is a matter of health and human rights … To secure health, we have to take preventive action. The concept of universal health coverage could be an important catalyst.”

Ban was part of a panel including World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim; Harvard University President Emeritus Lawrence H. Summers; Nigeria Minister of Finance Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala; and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, now the U.N. Special Envoy for Cities and Climate.

Why Investing in Poor Countries Helps All of Us

Jim Yong Kim's picture

Many people have the misconception that my field -- global development -- is just about do-gooders and charities helping the poor. To be sure, many charitable groups are doing generous, laudable work. But global development extends far beyond charity and has a greater impact on the global economy than most people think.

Strong economic growth in developing countries became an engine for the global economy after the 2008-09 financial crisis, accounting for roughly 50 percent of all global growth. In addition, fully half of the United States’ exports now go to emerging markets and developing economies.

Global economic development can be good for your bottom line. Our focus is on helping more than a billion poor people lift themselves out of extreme poverty and on boosting the incomes of the poorest 40 percent in developing countries. To do that, we need to find economic growth strategies that help all segments of society in emerging markets -- reaching even fragile states striving to put years of conflict behind them and to create good jobs for their people.

The question I ask my team all the time is, what’s our plan? Increasingly scarce public funding isn’t enough to get the job done. We need to attract private sector investment that creates jobs. Ninety percent of all jobs in the developing world are created by the private sector. If we have high aspirations for the poor and vulnerable, there is no argument: We need the private sector to flourish, even in the poorest countries.

Ahead of World Water Day: Let’s Talk about … Energy?

William Rex's picture

For the last six years, a power plant in San Luis Potosi, Mexico has bought water from a nearby wastewater treatment plant to use in its cooling towers (instead of using freshwater). This operation, Project Tenorio, a public-private partnership, continues today and has already resulted in the reduction of groundwater extraction of at least 48 million cubic meters (equivalent to 19,000 Olympic size pools) and increased aquifer sustainability.
This is a good example of the water and energy nexus in practice: the wastewater treatment plant covers almost all of its operating costs from this additional revenue stream and the power plant gets a more reliable water source that is also 33% cheaper than groundwater in that area.  

Treated wastewater has been used to reduce the water requirements of power plants in several other countries as well, as water supply becomes more variable or disappears. In the US, for example, around 50 power plants are using treated wastewater for cooling in order to adapt to water shortages. However, innovative integrated approaches like these are still more of an exception than the norm.

Managing Drought in California: A Non-Zero Sum Approach

Shafiqul Islam's picture

While recently touring drought-stricken California, President Obama remarked: "We can't think of this simply as a zero-sum game. It can't just be a matter of there's going to be less and less water so I'm going to grab more and more..."
In his State of the State address, California’s Governor, Jerry Brown, declared a drought emergency. He suggested: “Among all our uncertainties, weather is one of the most basic. We can’t control it. We can only live with it…We can take this drought as a stark warning of things to come.”
He further emphasized the need to conserve water, expand storage, rethink water rules, invest in drinking water protection, and rethink the amount of state water each sector receives.
But, how can California move away from existing rules, expectations, and legacies that include multi-layered federal subsidies and senior water rights to a non-zero sum approach to resolve competing and conflicting water realties?

Secular Stagnation: A Working Pair of Scissors Needs Two Blades

Otaviano Canuto's picture
The role of asset bubbles as an unsustainable pillar of pre-2007 world economic growth has been widely recognized. Simultaneously, analysts worry that a secular stagnation, though momentarily offset by asset bubbles, may have been already at play in major advanced economies, leading to the ongoing sluggish and feeble recovery.