In this year’s haul of pre-conference climate reports is the third in a series from the World Bank called Turn Down the Heat: Confronting the New Climate Normal. The first, released in 2012, put the figure of 4 degrees squarely on the map. This is what business as usual could lead to, it argued. Subsequent reports have described what that means for different regions of the world.
We’ve already experienced a 0.8 degree rise in temperature. A 1.5 degree rise is already locked in. The window for holding warming to 2 degrees is closing, and if we fail to act, there is a significant risk that we’ll be up to 4 degrees by the end of the century. They reckon there’s a 40% chance as things currently stand.
As an agency tasked with funding development, the World Bank emphasise the point that development gets harder with each degree of warming:
If the planet continues warming to 4°C, climatic conditions, heat and other weather extremes considered highly unusual or unprecedented today would become the new climate normal—a world of increased risks and instability.
The consequences for development would be severe as crop yields decline, water resources change, diseases move into new ranges, and sea levels rise. The task of promoting human development, of ending poverty, increasing global prosperity, and reducing global inequality will be very challenging in a 2°C world, but in a 4°C world there is serious doubt whether this can be achieved at all.
That’s pretty stark. In a significantly warmer world, losses from climate change may be mounting faster than development can advance, making it impossible to end poverty or increase prosperity.
Those of us in developed countries might see economic growth stall, but those in poorer countries may be locked out entirely. It’s little wonder that poverty NGOs are now some of the loudest voices on climate change, and are allied with environmental groups. It’s increasingly clear that climate change is so much more than an environmental issue, and acting to stop it is not ‘saving the planet’. What we do, or fail to do in the next few years will change human history.