Wendy Koch, USA Today
November 19, 2012
What would the world be like if it were four-degrees warmer? The answer, in a new report released by the World Bank, is dire: extreme heat waves, floods, drought, sea-level rice, food shortages.
November 19. 2012 - The world is on course to warm as much as 4 degrees Celsius, or 7 degrees Fahrenheit, by 2100, prompting extreme heat-waves, severe drought and major floods as sea-level rises, warns the World Bank in a new report.
All regions would suffer, but the tropics and subtropics are among the most vulnerable and the planet's poorest people would be hit the hardest, according to the study, "Turn Down the Heat," released Sunday. The study says current global efforts, aimed at keeping warming to below a 2-degree change, don't go far enough.
"We don't have time to lose," says Rachel Kyte, the World Bank's vice president for sustainable development, urging drastic action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. She says Superstorm Sandy shows "the fragility of a lot of our infrastructure" and the need for resilient agricultural, transportation and energy systems. Her organization, which promotes growth in developing countries, commissioned the report by the Germany-based Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Climate Analytics.
The report, based on recent climate science, says the planet could reach temperatures 4 degrees Celsius higher than pre-industrial levels as early as 2060 if governments don't meet their promises to fight climate change. Even if they are fully met, it says a 3-degree increase appears likely. Global temperatures have already risen about 0.8 degrees Celsius in the past century.
The study says coastal cities could be inundated with floods, limited food supplies could cause higher malnutrition rates, and biodiversity, including coral reefs, could be irretrievably lost. It says average summer temperatures could rise 6 degrees Celsius in parts of the United States, Mediterranean, North Africa and the Middle East, and sea levels could rise between a half-meter and a full meter, or 39 inches, by 2100.
Skeptics say the report paints an overly dire portrait. "This report is non-science," says Patrick Michaels, director of the libertarian Cato Institute's Center for the Study of Science. He says the 4-degree warming is an "implausible outlier."
David Kreutzer, an energy economist at the conservative Heritage Foundation, agrees. He also says the World Bank's recommendations, including redirecting money now spent on fossil-fuel subsidies toward solar and wind energy production, could ultimately do more harm than good for developing countries.
"Proposing energy killing climate policies for the emerging economies is like telling the emaciated to start their diet now because they may become overweight in 90 years," Kretuzer says.
Yet the World Bank's call to action echoes the urgency of other major studies. Earlier this month, at the request of the CIA, a report by the National Research Council warned that climate change is accelerating and could place unprecedented strains on U.S. military and intelligence agencies. Also this month, the International Energy Agency said the world has only about five years to make changes to avert climate change's most severe impacts.
"The World Bank report confirms that the United States' recent severe storms, droughts, heat waves, and wild fires are no coincidence, but instead are the 'new normal' of unchecked climate change," says Dan Weiss, director of climate strategy at the Center for American Progress, a liberal-leaning think tank.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon said in a statement that the report "reminds us that climate change is happening ....now." He called on nations to honor their commitment, made last year in Durban, South Africa, to forge a new legally binding climate agreement by 2015.
The more than 190 nations participating in the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change begin a new round of talks Nov. 26 in Qatar.
Kyte says the World Bank sought the report, because its work with developing countries needs to factor in what the future will look like. She says they have the opportunity to build a more resilient infrastructure from the ground up.
"This is not rocket science," she says, adding the knowledge is there but the political will is still needed.