By Michael Carter of the University of California-Davis and the National Bureau of Economic Research, and Sarah Janzen of Montana State University
Recent climate-related natural disasters, including droughts, floods and wildfires, have revealed widespread vulnerability of poor populations. Climate-related hazards not only take lives, they destroy homes, compromise livelihoods, reduce crop yields, increase food price volatility, and spawn food insecurity. The inability of poor households to sustain critical investments in child health and nutrition during and after such shocks unfortunately means climate-related hazards are likely to result in permanent deleterious consequences for the next generation.
Contingent social protection measures—which release transfers in the wake of a shock—may improve resilience among the poorest, but the situation is more complex than might first meet the eye. It is not only the poorest who may merit inclusion in contingent social protection schemes. Several recent analyses of droughts show that it is not only the destitute who severely restrict consumption (and undercut investments in child health and nutrition), but also a group of households who hold modest asset stocks. These households, whom we might label the vulnerable, (because they are not destitute, but face the risk of becoming so), face an unpleasant choice. They can sell scarce assets in order to sustain consumption in the face of drought-induced income declines, or they can hold on to their productive assets to avoid being locked into a poverty trap. While their logic of holding on to remaining assets (often called asset smoothing) is unassailable, it induces the kinds of consumption declines that compromise the human capital of the next generation.
Senator John Kerry’s recent speech to World Bank staff, which a colleague reported on earlier, was clear and powerful. He said that the development challenges of the 21st century cannot be delivered by international financial institutions with 20th century structures and priorities. He could have not have started his speech better that he did—with a call for the governance of these institutions to reflect today’s transformed global economic landscape and a merit-based staff selection system from bottom to top.
In our work and experience at the World Bank, we see significant links between the three main challenges that Kerry outlined (empowering women, enhancing food security, and addressing climate change). Even as my agriculture colleagues focus on the nexus between climate change and food security, there is mounting evidence of a disproportionate burden on women from climate-related risks.
|Photo ©Simone D. McCourtie / World Bank|
Just eighteen days before Copenhagen, climate change was, not surprisingly, the central theme of Kerry’s remarks. While Kerry is a relatively recent advocate of climate action, his commitment to pushing climate change legislation in the U.S. was very evident, as was his grasp of the complexities of global action on the climate front.
“America needs to signal to the world that it is serious,” he said, in step with one of the main messages of the World Bank’s World Development Report 2010: Development and Climate Change, which calls upon rich countries to take the lead in reducing their carbon footprints and providing the funds for low-carbon technologies to be deployed in developing countries. Listing recent US achievements, he said that the country was committed to progress and that Copenhagen was vital.
Kerry referred to “energy poverty”— the lack of access to electricity faced by millions in the developing world—as a challenge interlocked with climate change. “No citizen of the developing world should be held back by lack of access to electricity,” he said, acknowledging, however, that the world was hurtling toward what he described as catastrophic and irreversible climate change.
“Solving energy poverty using old paradigms is a short-term bargain and a dangerous one,” Kerry said, stressing the need to find solutions that address both goals. “With its funding and intellectual leadership, the Bank can play a profoundly important role in shifting the balance toward climate solutions,” he said, listing several actions as critical for the Bank.
After more than a year of research, consultation, and writing, I’m happy to announce that we have just released a “pre-press” version of our report: World Development Report 2010: Development and Climate Change. While the printed books won’t be ready until the end of October, the advance files (subject to correction and change) are now available on our website, so please feel free to download them and let us know what you think via comments on this blog!
The report, which is the latest in the World Bank’s long-running series on development, emphasizes that developing countries are the most vulnerable to the negative impacts of climate change. In fact, they face 75 to 80 percent of the potential damage from climate change. The latest and best scientific evidence tells us that at global warming of more than 2°C above pre-industrial temperatures—an increase that will be extremely difficult to avoid—more than a billion people could face water scarcity, 15 to 30 percent of species worldwide could be doomed to extinction, and hunger will rise, particularly in tropical countries. So it’s overwhelmingly clear that developing countries need help to cope with these potential impacts, even as they strive to reduce poverty faster and deliver access to energy and water for all.
Even in the frugal India of the 1970s, where the idea of waste bordered on the criminal, I thought my grandfather was being excessively old-fashioned when he refused to use our indoor water-heater to take a hot bath in the cooler months.
|Photo © Cammeraydave | Dreamstime.com|
Was it really just three decades ago that my granddad’s carbon footprint was barely visible? Today, as part of my job at the World Bank, I’ve been following climate issues closely, and am often struck by the difference between life in a big western city in the 21st century and in the small-town India in which I grew up. In my world today, many people are beginning to adopt “carbon fasts” during the Christian period of Lent, agreeing to a daily low-carbon action, say, unscrewing a light bulb and doing without it for 40 days. But in the small-town India of my childhood, my grandfather wouldn’t have installed—much less used—an electric light, unless he really needed it to begin with.
The two great challenges of the 21st century are the battle against poverty and the management of climate change. On both we must act strongly now and expect to continue that action over the coming decades. Our response to climate change and poverty reduction will define our generation. If we fail on either one of them, we will fail on the other. The current crisis in the financial markets and the economic downturn is new and immediate, although some years in the making. All three challenges require urgent and decisive action, and all three can be overcome together through determined and concerted efforts across the world. But whilst recognising that we must respond, and respond strongly, to all three challenges, we should also recognise the opportunities: a well-constructed response to one can provide great direct advantages and opportunities for the other.
[Originally posted at the Development Marketplace Blog]
In my first blog entry, I mentioned that adaptation to climate change spans a vast range of possible actions and that it can seem a rather abstract concept. Adaptation can range from sea walls to drought-resistant crops to social protection for climate shocks. This big range of possible actions makes it hard to nail down: what does any given country, region, or village really need to do to start adapting? Any two people talking about climate adaptation in poor countries probably carry different mental images of the kind of actions they think will be needed.
To pretend that we have all the answers—as some of the numerous reports being written on the topic do—is foolish. We are in the pioneer days of gearing up for climate change and no-one knows what actions will ultimately prove most effective.
Some readers and activists may question why the World Bank Group funds coal-fired power plants and yet professes to embrace sustainable development. The answer is that there is an urgent need for energy in the poor countries that we serve and indeed in my home country, China. There are roughly 1.6 billion people in developing countries--700 million of whom are in Africa and 550 million in South Asia--who lack access to electricity.
[Originally posted at the Development Marketplace Blog]
|Photo © Planinternationalty|
We hear that climate changes – ongoing and those to come – are hitting the poor the hardest and the soonest. So what can we do about that?
Well, adapting to climate change is such an abstract and wide-reaching concept I find it sometimes hard to nail down. How do you actually adapt, especially if you are poor and struggling to put food on the table and send your children to school? I find myself wondering what are the ideas that can help poor people cope with harsh weather?
The National Adaptation Programmes of Action (NAPAs) are the most prominent national efforts in the least developed countries (LDCs) to identify priority areas for climate change adaptation. Now that most of the NAPAs have been completed (38 out of 48), it is time to ask if they matter.
The NAPAs were completed at a price tag of near 10 million dollars for preparation and another anticipated 2 billion for implementation. It might appear they are a golden opportunity for the developed world to show that it is serious about supporting adaptation in vulnerable countries. But the NAPA reports continue to sit on the UNFCCC’s website, available to anyone to read but with little prospects of attracting funds for implementation – or so think many who participated in the NAPA process!