Climate action does not require economic sacrifice


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Harvesting rice-fields in a White Thai village in Mai Chau, Hoa Binh province, northern Vietnam.
Harvesting rice-fields in a White Thai village in Mai Chau, Hoa Binh province, northern Vietnam.

More than two decades ago, the world agreed on the need to confront climate change.

The U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) emerged in 1992, spawning a variety of negotiating forums with the goal of preventing catastrophic impacts from planetary warming caused mostly by polluting societies.

It's easy to overlook the progress that has occurred since, because we still have so far to go. Droughts, flooding and cyclones that already seem to be the norm are just the latest warnings of what is coming, and preventing much worse requires immediate and aggressive action to drastically reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.

The Sustainable Development Goals, achieved after an incredible consultation process around the world, show what must happen to promote stable growth that ends poverty and benefits everyone -- especially the neediest and most vulnerable people -- in a world transformed by climate change.

Embedded in implementation of each of the 17 SDGs are two simple and startling realities:

  • No scenario exists in which we would meet the SDGs by the 2030 deadline if our emissions trajectory continues as it is today.
  • Nor does any scenario exist in which we meet the SDGs without investing in greater resilience to climate change.

The work generated by the UNFCCC process provides the answers we need. The science is clear and the economics is compelling. Now as we look ahead to December'sclimate-change conference in Paris, we all need moral and political will to take the necessary steps.

From the World Bank Group's perspective, these steps require building climate-resilient societies through low-carbon growth, with the right financing in place. The scale of work needed to meet the challenge means transforming our economies.

That means finance, and lots of it. The financing required for an orderly transition to a growing, low-carbon, and resilient economy is counted in the trillions, not billions, to ensure that countries, cities and communities can cope with the impacts of climate change.

The good news is that climate action does not require economic sacrifice. Smart policy choices can deliver economic, health and climate benefits, as shown by our Adding Up the Benefits report.

Multilateral banks, like the World Bank Group have a clear role to play. As a report released in June showed in the last year, we delivered more than $28 billion in financing for climate action and mobilized more from others sources. However, that is just a fraction of what is needed. 

A key and necessary, but insufficient step, is putting a price on carbon -- the primary cause of climate change -- to make fossil-fuel power and resulting excessive emissions more expensive. At least 40 countries and more than 20 cities, states and provinces now use, or plan to use, a price on carbon. This helps create the economic incentive to shift from fossil-fuel dependency and choose low-carbon development options.

Leveraging funding from the private sector and the trillions of dollars it manages is also essential to meeting the goals. As an example of the new thinking required, the World Bank has helped pioneer green bonds, an innovative way for private investors to support climate action.

Our approach is wide-ranging. We are supporting the energy transformation that is already underway, with work that helps countries shift to solar, wind, and other forms of renewable energy. We are also helping farmers adopt new technologies, new ways to feed their livestock and new crop varieties, as they adapt to a changing climate. 

We've seen this approach work in Vietnam, where a project to change farming practices for rice cut water usage by about 20 percent and lowered greenhouse-gas emissions. Success has led to expansion of the effort in the Mekong Delta. Now, over five years, the project is expected to help reduce about 2.5 million tons of CO2 equivalent.

Seemingly straightforward changes can make a world of difference. In Bangladesh, for instance, a Bank project is building more than 500 new steel shelters for people on the frontline of climate change. The shelters serve as primary schools while also offering safe havens when disaster strikes.

The SDGs will be realized in an era profoundly shaped by climate change. We know we have to move toward zero carbon by the end of the century. Let's not put off till tomorrow what we need to do today.

Rachel Kyte
World Bank Group Vice President & Special Envoy for Climate Change
Twitter: @rkyte365

This post originally appeared in the Huffington Post.


Rachel Kyte

Vice President and Special Envoy for Climate Change

Subramaniam Udhayamarthandan
September 19, 2015

Surely. SDGs need not be realized at the cost of economic growth. Water / Energy / Environment & freedom from pollution are key factors while considering sustainable development. Financial support to technology development, whether Government initiative / private/ SME or even individuals for that matter, financial support is vital for technology development. Broader global service based institutions like World Bank can think of supporting private / SME's or even individuals in this regard due to the high innovative potentials of this sector. Somehow NGO's are given more focus than SMEs in this regard. Whereas result oriented progress is the need of the hour, policy relaxation from the World Bank in this regard can really lead to positive development & accelerate sustainable development in real spirits. One more aspect is the non renewable nature of our material resources on the planet like fossil fuels, minerals, valuable ecosystems & environment. We need to make the deserts & dry lands become greener & productive. That is the spirit of real human development.

Jean-Roger Mercier
December 17, 2015

Many thanks for this very relevant piece and I can't wait to read what you and John Roome will say about the follow-up to the Paris Accord. In the meanwhile, I want to share with you that I am deeply troubled by the recent surge of "economists"' publication trying hard to show that there ain't no such thing as win-win solutions, let alone free lunches at the "energy transition" table. Their basic argument is that only nuclear power has the potential for substituting conventional fossil fuels and that renewables, because of their unreliability and cost, do not offer any serious alternative. In short, if nuclear is not on the table, it is a choice between more coal, energy imports and unreasonable investment spending. Not being an economist myself, as you know, I am a little short in arguing that energy transition can indeed occur as a combination of renewables, energy conservation and management graduality in the transition, which is my interpretation of your message. May I kindly ask for your help? Advanced thanks.