climate change development

Climate change could make development impossible

world-bank-climate-reportIn 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.


  1. This is a great report, so informative and kinda scary. Alot of these reports are starting to take the tone of “we are going to experience some sort of temperature increase but the fact is we can still affect how much that increase will be”

    1. Yes, and we know from the lag in the climate system that there is more warming to come even if we could shut off emissions tomorrow. That means we have to work on adaptation as well as mitigation.

  2. Maybe those of us in the 1st world need to stop buying cheap junk cheap. Most of this stuff is made in 3rd world countries that don’t want to stop or slow the economic engine by cleaning things up.
    How many pairs of shoes do we need? How many cheap toys do our kids need at Christmas? So many of those toys end up in a closet un-used. There has to be a better way. Most people seem to feel that their kids need to open 20 gifts on Christmas. Why?
    We can’t get these other countries to clean up. We can reduce the demand for their products that cause so much environmental damage though.

    1. What’s so difficult about all of this is that so many countries are relying on making and exporting cheap junk as the key strategy for development. If Western consumers stop buying, that means fewer jobs and opportunities in poorer countries. That’s not a reason to buy more stuff though! That’s a reason to work harder at developing domestic markets and more local trade.

      And yes, Christmas is the time when our throwaway culture is at its worst. We try and keep Christmas fairly modest in our household, but we still somehow end up with full bins by the end of the season.

  3. Extremely concerning, and dissapointingly that so little still appears to be done by those that govern the poorer nations, particularly on the African continent. Afirica could feed itself & much of the world, if only the governments of Afican nations would stop the despotic behaviour & wanton corruption that infiltrates from top downwards. Having worked in West Africa, I have experienced this attitude first hand. They have to be made to wake up to reality and realise that they cannot continue to rely on Western hand outs & its support-the west is not in a good state of repair & its future is looking bleak.

    1. I’ve seen this first hand too, and naturally, if a government is a corrupt and despotic shambles generally, it’s not going to get its act together on climate change.

      But there are some 50-odd countries in Africa and it’s important not to talk about the continent as a single bloc, as there are some real bright spots. In particular, Ethiopia has shown genuine global leadership, and aims to be carbon neutral by 2025. Gabon is another country that has put sustainability right at the core of its development plan.

      Others are working on new technologies. While everyone has talked endlessly about carbon capture and storage, Algeria is one of the few places that has actually successfully done it. Morocco is pioneering concentrated solar thermal.

      Several African countries have 100% renewable electricity, including Malawi and Mozambique. That’s partly because they’re working from a low base, but that’s still a little known fact and something to be celebrated. Renewable energy is a recognised leapfrog technology, and right across the continent, goals are more ambitious than most developed countries.

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