The Multilateralist

The World Bank’s shock therapy on climate change

The World Bank’s shock therapy on climate change

The World Bank has just released a major new report on climate change, and it’s designed to be startling. The report tries to understand what a world that is 4 degrees Celsius warmer would look like, and it sketches a grim picture:

Without further commitments and action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the world is likely to warm by more than 3°C above the preindustrial climate. Even with the current mitigation commitments and pledges fully implemented, there is roughly a 20 percent likelihood of exceeding 4°C by 2100….

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.

In his introduction to the report, Bank president Jim Kim writes, "[i]t is my hope that this report shocks us into action." It’s well timed in that respect. The Bank report (which was mostly researched and written by the Potsdam Institute) comes at a moment when climate change has new momentum in the United States and just days before the next session of the UN-sponsored climate change negotiations.

This latest iteration of that long-running process takes place in Doha and will focus on streamlining what has become a byzantine negotiating process and pushing states to comply with committments already made. Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the UN body overseeing the negotiations, described the broad challenge to me recently this way:

A lot of the work of Doha is to take the issues that have been under design or negotiation and put them into implementation. Governments are completely aware of the fact that they are behind schedule, that science demands speedy and scaled-up action and not what we have right now.

The Bank report appears to be a very deliberate attempt to infuse those sluggish negotiations with a greater sense of urgency.