Playing charades with my nine-year-old over the weekend, I was surprised when he gave black smoke as a clue for diesel. When I was his age, I probably would have given bus or truck as a clue.
The word diesel derives from the inventor Rudolph Diesel, who developed a heavy-duty engine in Germany in the late 1800s. Diesel fuel is any fuel used in diesel engines. The combustion of diesel fuel provides the power to move heavy-duty vehicles, such as buses and trucks. It also results in emissions of fine particles, often in the form of black smoke, along with a number of other chemical compounds.
In 2012, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the emissions from diesel combustion to be carcinogenic. Last month, the WHO released data showing that more than 7 million deaths are caused by indoor and outdoor air pollution. The black smoke from diesel engines is a part of outdoor air pollution contributed by buses and trucks, as my son would tell me after we finished our game.
What he does not know as yet is that a study by a team of international scientists in 2013 noted that diesel smoke consists primarily of black carbon, which has a strong global warming impact on the climate; nearly 3,300 time more than that of carbon dioxide over a 20-year time period.
The one simple and clear message from the triangulation of current scientific evidence is that reducing diesel emissions provides health and climate benefits.
December 2009 does not seem so long ago. The UN climate conference in Copenhagen had just come to a disappointing end, and I headed home feeling depressed. I returned to China for holiday and was surprised to see the widespread awareness of climate change and the collective sense of urgency for action. The concept of "low carbon" was discussed in all major and local newspapers. To my amazement, I even found an advertisement for a "low carbon" wedding. I finished my holiday and went back to Washington with optimism and hope: Despite the failings of Copenhagen, China, the biggest emitter in the world and the largest developing country, was going through a real transformational change. China clearly saw action on climate change as serving its own interest and as an opportunity to pursue a green growth model that decouples economic development from carbon emissions and resource dependence.
In the past five years, the world has witnessed the emergence of China as a leader for tackling climate change. A few weeks ago, colleagues at the World Bank Group heard an evidenced-based presentation by Vice Chairman Xie Zhenhua from the National Development Reform Commission (NDRC) of China, who showed what China had done in the past, is doing now, and plans to do in the future. He shared his candid assessment of the challenges, mistakes, and lessons learned from China's experience.
China’s progress is impressive. Between 2005 and 2013, average economic growth has been above 8 percent while the country’s emissions intensity has decreased by 28.5 percent compared with 2005 levels. This equates to emissions reductions of 23 million tons of CO2. These reductions were achieved through massive closures of inefficient coal fire plants, aggressive energy efficiency programs, expanding the renewable energy program, and large investments in clean technology.
While these numbers are impressive, sustaining them will be harder. Over the last 10 years, China has targeted its "low-hanging fruit" for mitigation options. The challenge today is how China will sustain annual GDP growth of more than 7 percent while continuing to reduce its economy’s emissions intensity.
The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report warns of growing risks to global food security from climate change. In a new blog post, World Bank Group Vice President and Special Envoy for Climate Change Rachel Kyte writes that the future doesn’t have to be like this, that we can take action now. She points to opportunities for scalable climate-smart agriculture solutions. Read more
Strengthening disaster and climate resilience must become an integral part of our development work. With global temperatures continuing to rise, we know that volatile and extreme weather events will become more frequent, and that poor and vulnerable populations will be most at risk when that happens.
So I was pleased to recently welcome a group of international development experts to the World Bank Group’s headquarters in Washington who are all working – tirelessly – to develop climate and disaster risk screening tools.
These tools are exactly what they sound like: They provide due diligence at the early stages of project design to ensure that climate and disaster risks are flagged. Screening is a first, but essential, step to make sure that these risks are assessed and managed as we work on climate and disaster-resilient development.
All of this will help us better predict and prepare for risk, allowing nations and communities to build the capacity they need to grow resilient, and to put in place response measures in a warming and more disruptive climate.
The participants at the workshop this month were all on board with the idea that we must partner and work together to be able to meet these challenges. They agreed that the next step for the group will be to develop a questionnaire that would allow for a comprehensive mapping of existing screening tools, and to help determine potential areas of collaboration going forward.
A good friend of mine recently returned from her mother’s funeral in Germany. She had died of lung cancer after spending the last eight years of her life in a slum in New Delhi where she taught orphaned children.
I can’t help but wonder if breathing the dirty indoor and outdoor pollution in New Delhi contributed to her cancer. My friend has the same question.
In new estimates released March 25, the World Health Organization (WHO) reports that in 2012, about 7 million people died - one in eight of total global deaths – as a result of air pollution. Indoor air pollution was linked to 4.3 million deaths in households that cook over coal, wood and biomass stoves. Outdoor air pollution was linked to 3.7 million deaths from urban and rural sources worldwide. (As many people are exposed to both indoor and outdoor air pollution, mortality attributed to the two sources cannot simply be added together.)
South and East Asia had the largest number of deaths linked to indoor air pollution.
The WHO finding more than doubles previous estimates and confirms that air pollution is now the world’s single largest environmental health risk. In particular, the new data reveal a stronger link between both indoor and outdoor air pollution exposure and cardiovascular diseases, such as strokes and ischemic heart disease, as well as between air pollution and cancer. In the case of both indoor and outdoor air pollution related deaths, 6 percent were attributed to cancer.
Thinking that my friend’s mother perished as result of pollution may not be so far-fetched.
Looking back at 2013, the Climate Investment Funds’ (CIF) fifth year, I am encouraged by the amount of ground we have covered. Not only are we beginning to see more tangible results of CIF investments, we are also venturing into new territory both geographic and financial. New contributions of $400 million received in 2013 make us the largest source of climate finance with pledges of $8 billion, demonstrating the confidence donors have in our mission and multilateral development bank (MDB) partnership to deliver on the promise of transformative, climate-smart development.
The CIF was created to trigger investments for immediate climate action and to facilitate learning on the technologies and methods needed to promote clean technology, renewable energy, sustainable management of forests, and climate-resilient development. The clock is ticking in the race against climate change, and we are on the move.
In Mexico, for example, $45 million from the Clean Technology Fund (CTF) has leveraged over $500 million of commercial resources to help catalyze the commercialization of Oaxaca’s wind industry. In Turkey, $149.5 million in CTF financing has attracted $1.38 billion from other sources to expand national bank lending to renewable energy and energy efficiency markets to stimulate their growth. And in Morocco, $197 million in CTF financing has played a pivotal role in launching the first phase of the 500MW Ouarzazate concentrated solar power complex by raising awareness and attracting over $1 billion in additional financing.
Climate change is a threat to global development and to poverty alleviation. And yet, reducing greenhouse gas emissions is proving difficult because all players in an economy contribute to the problem. To make a difference, we must reduce our emissions in a coordinated manner.
This is no easy task. So where do we go from here?
One approach involves pricing the “externalities” that are contributing to climate change. Pricing externalities into the costs of production is nothing new. A classic textbook example is the paper mill that sits upstream from a fishing village.
Discharge from the mill pollutes the river, diminishing the fishermen’s catch. The mill freely uses the water of the river in its production of paper, but does not pay for the damage of the negative externality that it causes. To remedy the situation, regulations can be put in place to stop waste from going into the river – or the mill can pay a fine equivalent to the loss of the fishermen’s revenue.
The latter is an example of an externality priced into the cost of production. The same can be done to combat climate change.
In this case, carbon emissions are the externality that must be priced. Doing so provides a cost-effective and efficient means to drive down greenhouse gas emissions as the cost of such pollution goes up.
Scanning the Twittersphere for the hashtag #wbheat, you'll get an idea of how successful the World Bank's online course on climate change has been.
A few weeks ago, we passed a big milestone in the World Bank Group’s climate change and development work. For the first time, small-scale farmers earned carbon credits from an agricultural land management project.
The project in western Kenya kicked off what will surely be many more soil carbon projects in coming years. It also shows how sustainable farming (such as increased mulching and less tilling) can be part of the global effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions – while improving livelihoods for poor, rural families.
The soil carbon project, made possible by an accounting system for low-carbon farming approved in 2011, took several years to prepare and implement. I had the fortune to be right there, working with farmers on the ground in Kenya and trying to understand their reality.