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Talking to the UN Security Council about Climate Change

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Flags at the United Nations. UN Photos

This morning, I had the honor of speaking to the UN Security Council about an increasingly dangerous threat facing cities and countries around the world, a threat that, more and more, is influencing everything that they and we do: climate change.

World Bank President Jim Kim is in Russia right now talking with G20 finance ministers about the same thing – the need to combat climate change. Every day, we’re hearing growing concerns from leaders around the world about climate change and its impact.

If we needed any reminder of the immediacy and the urgency of the situation, Australia Foreign Minister Bob Carr and our good friend President Tong of Kiribati spoke by video of the security implication of climate effects on the Pacific region. Perhaps most moving of all, Minister Tony deBrum from the Marshall Islands recounted how, 35 years ago, he had come to New York as part of a Marshall Islands delegation requesting the Security Council’s support for their independence. Now, when not independence but survival is at stake, he is told that this is not the Security Council’s function. He pointed to their ambassador to the UN and noted that her island, part of the Marshall Islands, no longer exists. The room was silent.

It fell to us to point out the security implications of business as usual. If the world does nothing to stop climate change:

  • half the global population will be living in water-scarce countries by the end of the century, compared to 28% today;
  • 35% of sub-Saharan Africa's cropland will become unsuitable for cultivation, with grave consequences for food security;
  • the breadbaskets of North America and the Mediterranean will see repeats of this past summer's crop-crumbling heat waves more frequently, to potentially devastating effect.

So what do we do?

First, cities. Developing countries are urbanizing fast - some will be shifting from less than 20% urban today to more than 60% in the next 30 years. The decisions they make today – about transportation infrastructure, water supply, land use rules, building codes and more – will lock in development patterns for decades to come.

They can choose to grow green with careful, integrated urban planning and support – they will need direct finance and assistance. We will need to step up our work here in support of our clients. In China, cities are seizing on low-carbon development options. We're helping Lagos develop more sustainable transportation.

We will need to change the way we produce our food, as well. The world’s farmers will need to produce 70% more food by 2050 to feed a population expected to pass 9 billion people, and yet climate scientists tell us that for every 1 degree Celsius increase in average temperature around the world, crop yields will decrease by an average of 5%. We can and must farm in ways that increase productivity, build farmers’ ability to cope with erratic weather, and increase carbon storage on land. We are mobilizing global alliances on climate-smart agriculture, and we have no time to lose.

World Bank Vice President for Sustainable Development Rachel Kyte and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at the Security Council meeting February 15, 2013. Yuvan Beejadhur/World BankWe are also helping countries transition to a cleaner energy mix. We have doubled our investments in renewable energy in the last five years, and the $7.6 billion Climate Investment Funds we administer will support low-carbon, climate-resilient projects in 48 countries. But that $7.6 billion is a drop in the ocean of what is needed to support the transition to green infrastructure and energy systems. The resilient and green infrastructure gap is, after all, calculated at around $1.3 trillion a year – excluding operation and maintenance.

Stopping a 4°C warmer world from becoming reality and staying at a 2°C one still requires huge investments in adaptation – effectively the resilience of countries, cities, communities, especially the poor.

Disaster risk management – putting effort into prevention and preparedness rather than simply reacting after disasters strike – saves lives and property, and it is increasingly at the core of the Bank’s work. Preserving wetlands and mangroves provides protective storm barriers. Avoiding development in vulnerable areas prevents flooding and deaths that often affect a community's poorest residents. Through the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery, the Bank is working with client countries to mainstream disaster risk management into their development planning.

We recognize that there is much more we can do. President Kim has challenged us to take bold action. We need to get prices right, get finance flowing, and work where it matters most. Our mission, to end poverty and build shared prosperity, will be futile if we don’t.

Rachel Kyte
Vice President for Sustainable Development
Twitter: @rkyte365


Rachel Kyte

Vice President and Special Envoy for Climate Change

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