UXBRIDGE, Canada, Nov 19 2012 (IPS) - Coal, oil and gas companies and their backers in the financial and investment industry must stop putting billions of dollars into finding and extracting new sources of fossil fuels. If they don’t shift their investments, temperatures will soar four to 10 degrees C higher, devastating many parts of the world, the World Bank said Monday.
The world is on track to a “four-degree C world” marked by extreme heat-waves, declining global food stocks, loss of ecosystems and biodiversity, and life-threatening sea-level rise, according to an in-depth study by the World Bank released Monday.
“It is my hope that this report shocks us into action,” said JimYong Kim, president of the World Bank Group.
“A 4 degree C warmer world can, and must be, avoided – we need to hold warming below 2C,” said Kim in a statement.
“This report should awaken world leaders out of their slumber on climate change,” said Andrew Steer, president of the World Resources Institute, a U.S.-based environmental organisation.
“The alarm bell on global warming is ringing. Let’s hope world leaders are listening,” Steer said.
The World Bank report, “Turn Down the Heat”, spells out what the world would be like if it warmed by four degrees C (7.2 Fahrenheit). Scientists are nearly unanimously predicting this before the end of the century without serious policy changes, the report said.
“We’re already being impacted by climate change,” said Bill Hare, director of Climate Analytics in Berlin, one of two climate science centres that produced the World Bank report.
Global temperatures have only risen 0.8C so far. Worldwide, the cost of climate change is estimated at 1.2 trillion dollars annually, and the greatest impacts are on the poor and on poor countries. However, rich countries like the United States are not immune.
This year’s drought has cost the U.S. economy at least 100 billion dollars, according to Deutsche Bank Securities Inc. In addition, Superstorm Sandy caused 50 to 70 billion dollars in damages.
“It is really scary to realise there’s a one in 10 chance we will be at 4C by 2070,” Hare told IPS in an interview.
While the global average might be four degrees C, the actual temperatures over land would range between four and 10 degrees C higher. The United States is likely to see monthly summer temperatures rise by more than six degrees C. Temperatures in the Mediterranean are expected to be nine degrees C warmer than the warmest July by 2080.
The Sahara and the Middle East will see temperatures as high as 45 degrees C, or six to seven degrees C above the warmest July today, the report warns.
No nation will be immune but it is tropical countries where the impacts will be worst. Sea level rises will be 20 percent higher than elsewhere, and tropical cyclone intensity will increase as will drought.
“I’m very worried about food production. We cannot assume we can grow crops if the world warms four degrees C,” said Hare.
At such higher temperatures, droughts will increase. Nearly half of the world’s croplands will be affected by drought by 2100. Worst off will be Southern Africa, the United States, Southern Europe and Southeast Asia, the report says.
Coral reefs will stop growing by 2030 because fossil fuel emissions are turning the oceans increasingly acidic. By mid-century, corals will dissolve without major reductions in fossil fuel use, the report notes.
Corals provide home and habitat to 25 to 33 percent of all ocean life and are considered one of the life-support systems essential for human survival, according to the World Conservation Union (IUCN).
Given these and other known and unknown impacts from such a major increase in temperatures, the World Bank concludes that human adaptation to such conditions may not be possible. Countries will likely “experience severe disruptions, damage and dislocation”.
The report has little to say about solutions to stay below two degrees C. It simply concludes by saying “only early, cooperative, international actions can make that happen”.
Bank president Kim says the Bank intends to “redouble our efforts to support fast growing national initiatives to mitigate carbon emissions”.
However, the bank still continues to put its money into fossil fuel projects such as a proposed coal-fired power plant in Kosovo.
“Will the Bank seize the Kosovo project as an opportunity to model a new approach to development?” asks Carroll Muffett, president of the Center for International Environmental Law.
Up to 2011, the Bank spent 25 percent of its energy lending – 3.4 billion dollars – on coal-fired power plants.
“Or will it sound a clarion call the world should heed, then promptly ignore the call itself?” Muffett asked.
With governments subsidising the fossil fuel industry to the tune of 600 billion dollars per year, according to the Global Subsidies Initiative, and the industry itself investing a similar amount this year in exploration and new production, “We are clearly going in the wrong direction,” said Hare.
“We need to switch away from those investments,” he said, but it is not happening despite the seriousness of the climate challenge and increasingly dire reports like the World Bank’s.
“There is simply no leadership,” Hare told IPS.
There is a major opportunity to change this at the U.N. climate negotiations known as COP 18 that commence Nov. 26 in Doha, Qatar.
However, Hare remains pessimistic. “It is hard to imagine what it will take to get real action at COP 18,” he said.