Where the UN process has failed, can the World Bank do better? As the first scientist to preside over the World Bank, and a public health expert at that, Jim Yong Kim put climate change on the agenda at a meeting of G20 policymakers earlier this month, by reportedly telling delegates that the issue should not be forgotten while being focused on financial crisis management. And now the Bank has come out with a report that could have a significant impact on the global climate talks process led by the UNFCCC. Turn Down the Heat: Why a 4°C Warmer World Must be Avoided draws attention to the absolute failure of the UNFCCC process to deliver a global treaty to keep the increase in Earth’s temperature within a 2°C radius of pre-industrial times, so much so that even if all current mitigation commitments are fully implemented, the world will be warmer by more than 4°C by 2100. This 4°C world would suffer unprecedented heat waves, severe drought and major floods. It would host many 5-sigma events that are now essentially absent and many more 3-sigma events than we see today. Imagine a nightmare where the record surface melt of the Greenland ice sheet and the record-breaking draught conditions of the US this year alone are normative, rather than exceptional. And then take a look at how the UNFCCC climate talks have been stymied since ‘Nopenhagen’.
Yes, last year in Durban, European countries agreed to a second commitment period for Kyoto; but with the first commitment period about to end in December, details of renewing the protocol are sadly wanting. We haven’t seen much movement on the North-South median either, with developed countries demanding mandatory emission-control commitments from fast-growing emerging economies and the latter insisting that the former have failed to deliver on commitments reflecting their greater historical responsibilities. But what the World Bank report underlines is that the dark winds of climate change don’t respect national boundaries. When sea surface temperatures rise in the Indian-Pacific pool, East Africa experiences increased drought frequencies. When the polar ice sheets melt too fast,