Turn down the heat: even bankers know a bad thing when they see it (sometimes)

By Gareth Renowden 21/11/2012

Here’s Jim Yong Kim, head honcho at the World Bank, writing in the Guardian to mark the launch of a new report on climate change commissioned by the bank:

The question about climate change is no longer whether it is real. The question is what the world is going to look like for our children as they grow up. I have a three-year-old son, and, when he is my age, he could be living in a world that is completely different from ours, largely because of climate change.

Thanks for that wisdom, Mr Jim. I have a 25-year-old son, and I am certain that when he is my age, he will be living in a world that is hugely different to ours because of rampant climate change. If it’s a world that still has the luxury of world bankers, we (or at least bankers) will be doing well. For most, however, that will not be the case.

In Turn down the heat (executive summary here), the World Bank has commissioned the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Climate Analytics in Berlin [Science Daily] to take a look at where current emissions commitments are pointing us, and reaches the unsurprising conclusion that we don’t want to go there. However, there is still good news. The report states:

Warming of 4°C can still be avoided: numerous studies show that there are technically and economically feasible emissions pathways to hold warming likely below 2°C (Figure 1). Thus the level of impacts that developing countries and the rest of the world experience will be a result of government, private sector, and civil society decisions and choices, including, unfortunately, inaction.

As ever, a picture is worth more than a few of my words (Fig 1 in the exec summary):

The bad news is pretty obvious. Avoiding 2ºC is looking ever more difficult to achieve, and the sea level rise consequences of even stabilisation at current CO2 levels are not pretty:

However, even if global warming is limited to 2°C, global mean sea level could continue to rise, with some estimates ranging between 1.5 and 4 meters above present-day levels by the year 2300. Sea-level rise would likely be limited to below 2 meters only if warming were kept to well below 1.5°C.

Sounds pretty optimistic to me. To coin a phrase: remember the Eemian.

The report provides a useful summary of the potential nastiness of a world pushing through the 2ºC “guardrail”.

…there is also no certainty that adaptation to a 4°C world is possible. A 4°C world is likely to be one in which communities, cities and countries would experience severe disruptions, damage, and dislocation, with many of these risks spread unequally. It is likely that the poor will suffer most and the global community could become more fractured, and unequal than today. The projected 4°C warming simply must not be allowed to occur—the heat must be turned down. Only early, cooperative, international actions can make that happen.

Kim Yong Kim preferred to emphasise the positive in his Guardian piece:

On one hand, I hope that the vision of a world that is 4C warmer shocks us into action. On the other hand, I hope that the vision of economic opportunity arising from the need to create a low-carbon world inspires us to create new technologies. It is these technologies that can become drivers of economic growth as well as saviours of our planet from catastrophe.

I also hope the World Bank’s vision shocks us into action. In the run up to COP18 at Doha1, the world’s diplomats need all the encouragement they can get. In the meantime, forgive me for pointing out that the World Bank — while investing heavily in renewables and sustainable development — is still a major investor in coal burning power schemes. I’ll be more impressed when they walk the talk. So will my son and his (future) children.

  1. Hot Topic will have Cindy Baxter reporting from the negotiations.