I am standing on the shore of Bến Tre Province in the Mekong Delta in Vietnam. One of the first questions is, would I be able to stand here in a few months’ time?
If you look just a few hundred meters out to sea, that was cultivable land up to three years ago. In the last three years this village has lost half of its land. Sea incursion is just one of the complex challenges that the authorities and the people who live in the Mekong Delta have to juggle at the same time. So the Mekong Delta, the decisions that are made here are affected by the upstream decisions of hydroelectric planning, irrigation, and other freshwater use. By the time the water gets here, some of that freshwater which is needed is no longer available.
At the Global Environment Facility’s (GEF) 5th Assembly and Council Meetings earlier this month, the World Bank Group sent a full team to give strong signal of our ongoing support to the GEF as it celebrated the launch of its next four-year period. Hosted by the Mexican government, the meetings included a special address from President Enrique Peña Nieto, who called upon all nations to take a longer term vision of the needs of future generations.
This highly effective and still rather unique public-private partnership model remains one of the best practice examples among the nearly 20 conservation trust funds that the Bank has helped support globally over the years using GEF funds. Our efforts strived for financial sustainability through a series of sequential GEF projects, each of which stepped up ambition while stepping down the reliance on external funds. It was extremely gratifying, years on, to see and hear firsthand that the goal of self-reliance and full financial sustainability sought for the national park system was alive and doing well. A visit to the thriving Parque Nacional Isla Contoy, organized by the government as part of the week's concluding events, confirmed this as we saw the results of one of the first protected areas the Bank-GEF program helped establish.
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.
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"This meeting is going to be different. It’s going to be a turning point from the lofty, theoretical policy deliberation to real action on the ground to save our planet’s green lungs and our global climate." Those were my thoughts last week when I walked into a packed conference room in Brussels, Belgium, where a crowd of about 80 people from around the globe had gathered to learn about cutting-edge proposals from six pioneering developing countries with big, bold plans to protect forests in vast areas of their territories.
Chile, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Ghana, Mexico, Nepal, and the Republic of Congo came to the 9th meeting of the Carbon Fund of the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF) to convince 11 public and private fund participants to select their proposal as one of a small group of pilots intended to demonstrate how REDD+ can work.
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.
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.
At the UN climate talks that ended wearily on Saturday night in Warsaw, negotiators showed little appetite for making firm climate finance commitments or promising ambitious climate action. But they did succeed, again, in keeping hope alive for a 2015 agreement.
The final outcome was a broad framework agreement that outlines a system for pledging emissions cuts and a new mechanism to tackle loss and damage. There were new pledges and payments for reducing deforestation through REDD+ and for the Adaptation Fund, however the meeting did little more than avoid creating roadblocks on the road to a Paris agreement in 2015. In one of the few new financial commitments, the United Kingdom, Norway, and the United States together contributed $280 million to building sustainable landscapes through the BioCarbon Fund set up by the World Bank Group.
At the same time, COP19 was an increasingly emotional Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. The overture to this round of climate drama was provided by Typhoon Haiyan. Haiyan added, sadly, more to the mounting evidence of the costs of failure in tackling climate change. The language is inexorably moving towards one of solidarity, of justice. But for the moment, this framing is insufficient to prevent emission reduction commitments from moving backwards.
And yet again, as was the case in the climate conferences in Cancun, Durban, Doha, and now Warsaw, outside the official negotiations, there is growing pragmatic climate action driven by climate leaders from every walk of life.
The sense of urgency and opportunity is building, it just fails to translate into textual agreement.
In the climate negotiations under the United Nations framework, we are used to seeing geographical blocs and other blocs at loggerheads. The tension draws attention, but it isn’t the only story of blocs at the climate conference.
In Warsaw Thursday, members of the Climate and Clean Air Coalition – 75 countries and international organizations working together – met and talked about their progress so far and work for the future to slow climate change.
What do these countries – among them, Nigeria, Sweden, the United States, Ghana, Mexico, the United Kingdom, Chile, Morocco, and Canada – have in common?
Answer: The firm belief that we can work together and substantially reduce black carbon, methane, and other short-lived climate pollutants.
Today, three countries – Norway, the United Kingdom and the United States – pledged $280 million to the World Bank’s BioCarbon Fund, kicking off a groundbreaking initiative for sustainable forest landscapes.
Their significant commitment to land and forest preservation is important for two reasons.
The new Initiative for Sustainable Forest Landscapes will manage landscapes in a holistic fashion by working across sectors, rather than in “silos.” It also brings in the private sector already in the design phase, recognizing that many private firms are committed to “greening” and securing their supply chains from the impact of climate change.
Last week, the Telegraph newspaper in the United Kingdom reported that snow in the Himalayas was melting because of religious activity on the Indian subcontinent. The report, based on research by American and Indian scientists, found that burning of wood for cremations and incense sticks for religious ceremonies and marriages leads to emissions of black carbon and other compounds. This, in turn, accelerates the melting of ice and snow-covered surfaces.
There is a growing body of research looking at how black carbon is accelerating snow and glacial melting. A scientific paper published in India early this year associated forest fires and other biomass burning to the accelerated melting of one of the Himalayan glaciers. Scientists have even implicated black carbon emission from increased industrial activity in Europe for the retreat of glaciers in the Alps in the mid-19th century.