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WWF: World Bank underscores climate change threat, but must change lending patterns

To fight the worst impacts of climate change on the poor, the World Bank and its member governments must move funding out of fossil fuel projects that contribute to climate change and into support for sustainable economic growth, says WWF in response to a report released today by the Bank.

The report, Turn down the heat – Why a 4°C world must be avoided, summarizes the latest climate science and describes a world that is 4°C warmer, with droughts, extreme heat, flooding and crop failures. The report warns that at the current rate of CO2 emissions we could reach 4° warming by 2060, with dire consequences for us all, particularly the lives and livelihoods of the poor.

It says that the world can still keep global warming below 2°C, but living up to current commitments and even stronger policies are a must: “Numerous studies show that there are technically and economically feasible emissions pathways to hold warming likely below 2°C. Thus the level of impacts that developing countries and the rest of the world experience will be a result of government, private sector, and civil society decisions and choices, including, unfortunately, inaction.”

“As Superstorm Sandy reminded us, we’re all vulnerable to climate disruptions and extreme weather,” said Lou Leonard, World Wildlife Fund’s head of climate change. “The World Bank’s report makes clear that the United States is in line for major increases in drought, extreme heat and related impacts to farming and food production. The American Midwest saw a disturbing glimpse of this future during this summer’s historic drought.”

“But of course, WWF agrees that developing regions, with less capacity and resources to adapt, will suffer the most, threatening people and wildlife alike,” Leonard said. "There’s no time to waste, we have to prepare for climate disruption now.”

In the Greater Mekong region, for example, WWF is addressing infrastructure development, improving sustainable agriculture practices and promoting sustainable forestry. In Tram Chim National Park, removing internal dykes has significantly improved river connectivity and water quality, while also helping to develop a new water management plan. These restoration efforts have helped bird numbers to increase in the Park, including the endangered Sarus crane and Bengal florican.

According to Samantha Smith, leader of WWF’s Global Climate and Energy Initiative, the report is strong on science but short on actions the Bank and its members will undertake to curb climate change, particularly with respect to the Bank’s financing for fossil fuels, the single biggest source of CO2 emissions. Last week, the International Energy said that two-thirds of known fossil fuels need to stay in the ground to avoid dangerous climate change.

“The World Bank’s report shows that climate change is a massive threat to development and the natural world on which so many depend. Climate change is very likely to leave today’s children with a world that is much poorer, less safe and more inequitable. The World Bank and its member governments have the means to finance a fair transition to a cleaner, safer and fairer future. WWF expects that this report is a first step towards that decision,” she says.

Tasneem Essop, WWF’s head of low carbon frameworks, says the report is a timely wakeup call in advance of the UN climate negotiations in Doha, which start next week. “How many droughts, heat waves and extreme weather events will it take before our leaders take notice? We agree with the World Bank: the facts are out there and there is a moral responsibility to act. The minimalist leadership style of industrialized countries has to change,” she says.

Real leadership must be the hallmark of the Doha negotiations. “Doha must lay the basis for a fair ambition and binding agreement by 2015. There’s no time for world leaders to dither on this anymore, and this World Bank report makes this clear,” says Essop.