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Carbon Brief Staff

Carbon Brief Staff

24.11.2014 | 1:54pm
PeopleWorld Bank: ending poverty might become impossible because of climate change
PEOPLE | November 24. 2014. 13:54
World Bank: ending poverty might become impossible because of climate change

Lifting the world’s poorest out of extreme poverty may become impossible because of climate change, according to the World Bank’s new Turn Down the Heat report.

It looks at the consequences of warming in three regions: the Middle East and North Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, and eastern Europe and central Asia. The World Bank says these areas are already feeling the effects of 0.8 degrees of warming above pre-industrial temperatures.

If warming reaches four degrees by the end of the century, “unprecedented” heatwaves could affect the large majority of the land area of the Middle East, North Africa and Latin America in the coming decades. This new climate normal could cut crop yields by up to 70 per cent while increasing flood risks by a third in some regions and pushing up the incidence of drought by a fifth in others.

The shocks and stresses to come could undermine poverty reduction, push new groups into poverty, lead to population migrations and even increase the risk of conflict, the report says.

Poverty reduction

World Bank president Jim Yong Kim writes in a foreword to the report:

“Ending poverty, increasing global prosperity and reducing global inequality, already difficult, will be much harder with two degrees of warming, but at four degrees there is serious doubt whether these goals can be achieved at all.”

Today, 1.2 of the world’s 7 billion people live in extreme poverty.

Unfortunately the World Bank says some of the negative impacts of climate change may now be unavoidable because the world is “locked into” warming of close to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels. Even very ambitious attempts to limit emissions cannot change this.

But averting the worst projected climate impacts of a four degrees world remains technically, economically and politically feasible if global leaders are prepared to take tough choices now, Kim says.

Regional analysis

The report was prepared for the World Bank by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Climate Analytics, a Potsdam-based climate NGO and follows similar reports published in 2012 and 2013.

We’ve taken a look at the 300-page report’s detailed findings for the Middle East, Latin America and Europe and central Asia, to see what challenges and changes a climate-changed future might hold.

Regions: Latin America and the Caribbean

Climate change is already being felt across Latin America and the Caribbean, the World Bank says.

Rising temperatures are changing rainfall patterns, leading to flooding in some places and intense droughts in others. Climate change will mean dry places get drier and wet places get wetter.

In a four degree world, drought is expected to increase by 20 per cent across the region. Limiting warming to two degrees would make for a smaller increase. At the same time, parts of the Pacific coastline and southern Brazil will see extreme rainfall events happen more frequently. Such heavy rain raises the risk of landslides, which will hit the region’s rural poor the hardest, the report warns.

High levels of warming would be catastrophic for the region’s snow and glaciers. Up to 90 per cent of Andean glaciers would be lost in a two degree world, disappearing completely if temperatures top four degrees.

Some of the region’s other iconic features are under threat, too. Tropical fisheries are expected to decline dramatically with only two degrees of warming. Damage to coral reefs from acidifying oceans will hit income from tourism. The Amazon rainforest is degrading and may face complete dieback at high levels of warming, the report suggests, becoming a carbon source rather than a sink in dry years and accelerating climate change.

In a four degree world, more than 90 per cent of summer months across Central America, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru are projected to be unusually warm, compared to the 1951 to 1980 average. At two degrees, the figure is a fair bit lower at around 60 per cent. The most severe impacts of extreme heat are likely to be felt in cities, where 80 per cent of the region’s population lives.

WorldBank_SAmericaSummerTemp.pngPercentage of summers with unusually high temperatures compared to the 1951-1980 baseline by the end of the century, in (roughly) 2 degrees scenario (left) and 4 degrees scenario (right).

Changing temperatures and rainfall will have knock-on effects for food security. Three degrees increase would see wheat yields plummet 70 per cent, affecting domestic food supply and exports. Adaptation can reduce the risks, but won’t remove them completely, the report says.

Latin America and the Caribbean are also vulnerable to the weather phenomenon known as the El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO). The strong El Niño in 1997-98 cost billions of dollars in damages and tens of thousands of lives worldwide.

Climate change could mean we see more of the strongest El Niño events, according to research since last year’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report.

Low lying areas are also at risk from rising sea levels and storm surges. Tropical cyclones will happen 40 per cent more often in a two degree world, rising to 80 percent for four degrees, the report says. The Caribbean is particularly vulnerable, with half of its population living on the coast.

Regions: Middle East and North Africa

Screenshot 2014-11-24 12.17.49.png

The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) is sometimes called the cradle of civilisation. It is also, says the World Bank, “one of the world’s most climate vulnerable regions”, and will be severely affected by global warming, whether we limit temperature rise to two degrees or not.

The region has a complex political backdrop, and a population that is projected to double by 2050. It already uses high levels of electricity and water, and contains huge disparities of wealth, from poorer countries like Morocco and Egypt to wealthy oil states like Qatar and Kuwait.

That means countries have very different capacities to adapt to climate change, the World Bank says. Some have the means to pay for adaptation measures like desalination plants to make drinking water, or importing more food, but others don’t.

MENA already has very high summer temperatures, making it particularly vulnerable to further temperature rise. With four degrees of global warming by the end of the century, summer temperatures could be as much as eight degrees hotter in countries like Algeria, Saudi Arabia and Iraq.

Even in a world with only two degrees of warming this century, dangerous heat extremes will become more common. In a four degree world, cities across the region will spend about a third of the year experiencing exceptionally hot days, posing a serious health risk.

The region is already short of water and highly dependent on food imports, making it “highly vulnerable to temperature and precipitation changes”, the World Bank says. Whether warming is two or four degrees this century, water and agriculture will be under pressure.

Rainfall patterns are projected to change, with the north of the region receiving less rain, and the very dry south a bit more. Water availability is projected to decrease across the whole region.

Climate change will shorten growing periods in the region, and shift agricultural zones northward. Without adaptation measures, in a two degree world crop yields will decline by 30 per cent, and in a four degree world by as much as 60 per cent, the World Bank says.

Screenshot 2014-11-24 12.19.48.png

Climate change will disrupt and alter migration patterns in the region in complicated ways. Some people may be forced to move by climate impacts, but others may be forced to stay due to poverty.

Similarly, the World Bank warns that although drawing a direct link between climate change and conflict is difficult or impossible, climate change could act as a “threat multiplier” in the region, helping to “create the conditions for social uprising and violent conflict”.

Regions: Europe and Central Asia

This region encompasses the 12 countries of the Western Balkans, Central Asia and Russia. The World Bank considers the region “highly vulnerable” to climate change because of its reliance on agriculture, growing poverty rates and limited social services.

Temperatures across the region are projected to rise by more than the global average, with the greatest warming expected in northern Russia, along the Black Sea coast, and in northern China and Mongolia.

Projected summer temperature increases in degrees Celsius in a 4°C world by the end of the century, compared to 1951-1980. The darker reds show larger temperature rises.

Rainfall patterns are also expected to change, with increases in the northeastern areas, such as Siberia, and decreases for most of the Balkans:

Projected annual rainfall percentage changes in a 4°C world by the end of the century, compared to 1951-1980. The blue areas show increases and the brown areas show decreases.

In a 4°C world parts of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan will get drier. As these countries are already prone to drought, this could have “major consequences for water scarcity”, the World Bank warns.

In all projections, glaciers are expected to lose more than half of their volume by 2100. As the glaciers melt, they will provide an increase in available water in the short-term, but will cause large shortages as they disappear completely.

Decreases in annual snow cover will cause a drop in summer river levels as snow melts earlier in the year, with knock on effects for countries that get their electricity from hydropower.

These changes to water availability will also affect agriculture. The World Bank finds that yields will fall for most crops grown in the region, and there’ll be less food for livestock.

Overall, climate change will increase risks to food security, particularly for rural areas of Central Asia, the World Bank says.

In addition to the rising risk of food insecurity and summer temperature extremes, human health will be affected by an increase in the spread of diseases spread by mosquitoes and ticks, such as malaria, dengue fever and encephalitis.

One particular risk the World Bank identifies is to Russian forests, which cover almost 900 million hectares and store massive amounts of carbon in the trees and their soils. Rising water and heat stress, along with higher vulnerability to fire and diseases, could lead to large-scale forest dieback.

Different regions, shared vulnerabilities

The World Bank’s report shows how vulnerable these diverse regions are to climate change. The implication is that without measures to cut emissions soon, the impacts of climate change in a four degree world will be incompatible with ensuring other goals, like poverty reduction, security and increasing prosperity.

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