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Climate

Invest now!

by Eleonore von Bothmer
This year's World Development Report is devoted to the issue of development and climate change. Experts consider this proof of a rethink at the World Bank. The report seeks to re-concile things that are often regar-ded as mutually exclusive: growth and climate protection.

“Climate change is unfair and poses a serious threat to development goals,” Alexander Lotsch told his audience when he presented the German edition of the World Bank's 2010 World Development Report (WDR) in October in Berlin. Even if global warming can be limited to two degrees Celsius by 2050, the World Bank employee said, some 100 million to 400 million more people than at present will suffer hunger worldwide. Drinking water supply will become even less safe, and natural disasters and flooding will continue to take a rising toll. The industrial nations are two-thirds to blame for climate change, accor-ding to Lotsch, but the developing world will suffer 75 to 80 % of the consequences.

Lotsch argues that a “climate-smart” world is still possible. But countries must act now, act together and act differently. What is crucial, he says, is a fundamental re-gearing of the global energy system. Considerable investment in technological development is needed for low-carbon economic growth. According to the WDR, radically transforming the world's energy systems will require R&D investment of $100 billion to $ 700 billion a year. At present, only a fraction of that amount is being spent.

Time is racing against humankind, Lotsch points out. “If we wait, the sea-level will rise and many options will be lost. Investment is needed today because its economic impacts are long-term. Adaptation takes time.” Hans-Joachim Schellnhuber, the founding director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research welcomes the WDR. “The fact that the World Bank is highlighting the issue is a political exclamation mark,” he says. “That was inconceivable five to seven years ago.” The crux of the matter, he adds, is that no one really believes that the forecasts will come true. Today, the notion that temperatures in Oslo will rise to the levels common in Central Spain seems like science fiction. But Schellnhuber says that may well be the case in less than 40 years’ time. By 2050, temperatures in Berlin could be as high as in North Africa today.

“Successful development provides the best foundation to tackle climate change,” is the view of Manfred Konukiewitz from Germany's Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ). He uses the example of the Netherlands and Bangladesh, two nations that share a problem: a third of each country is below sea-level. But the Dutch are much better equipped to cope.

The WDR does not consider climate protection and growth mutually exclusive. Rather, it seeks to combine the two, stating that, for the sake of fairness, industrial nations need to provide technological and financial assistance to promote development and low-carbon growth in poorer countries.

Schellnhuber believes that global emissions trading will be of particular relevance, as it can offset the imbalance between those who cause climate change and those who suffer the impact. What is absolutely clear is that the future would be bleak if US levels of consumption were copied everywhere. The German scientist sees emissions trading as a mechanism for avoiding “uncontrollable climate change”. He likens humankind’s situation to the Titanic: “It is futile to complain about social injustice on a ship that is about to sink.” (eli)