Gathering clouds—climate change or economic recession

This page in:
Gathering clouds—climate change or economic recession
   Photo © Curt Carnemark/World Bank

Climate change is not a new phenomenon. It has been around through much of Earth’s history. But what is new is the speed of climate change today and the growing certainty that it is a consequence of human actions. Why should poor and developing countries worry about climate change? Many say that it is a distant threat of uncertain magnitude and scale. With the global financial crisis, is it not more reasonable to address current priorities such as food security, unemployment, growth and burgeoning fiscal deficits?

The challenge is that climate change is already occurring. Its impacts are visible in melting glaciers, rising sea levels, more violent storms and the changing pattern of extreme weather events. At current trends, science predicts that summers in the Arctic will be ice-free within 100 years. And it is not just the polar bears—who make good press copy—that would suffer. The effects would cascade across climate systems everywhere.

The impacts of climate change are being felt most acutely in the poorest countries of the world. Few developing countries are well adapted to even current climate shocks. Yet climate change is predicted to increase the variability and frequency of extreme events in ways that are outside the realm of our experience.

So where should we begin? Strategies that address the current risks of climate variability would go a long way to helping countries address these future projected impacts. Managing climate risks is fundamental for preserving and enhancing development and is often directly linked to national development priorities and business opportunities—in energy efficiency, renewable energy, sustainable livelihoods and environmental protection, and building resilience of infrastructure to climate variability.

The World Bank’s South Asia Region has recently released its draft Climate Change Strategy . We invite readers to visit the site and comment on the suggestions for addressing the climate–development challenge. The approach proposed for South Asia that builds upon the theme of building climate friendly economies may well apply more widely.

There is a long way that countries can go to developing sustainable and climate friendly growth strategies without sacrificing the urgent current development needs. While this is important, it is unlikely to be sufficient. To achieve the levels of greenhouse gas stabilization needed to prevent uncontrolled climate change, we need a considerable high-level global cooperation. Achieving a global consensus will be a challenge – but irrespective of the outcome, much can be done to begin the process of enhancing development under climate constraints.


Richard Damania

Chief Economist, Sustainable Development Practice Group

Join the Conversation

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly
Remaining characters: 1000