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A long way to go on climate change: seven issues to consider from the World Development Report 2010

Written by Neil Bird


Everyone talks about reaching a global deal over a successor to the Kyoto Agreement at Copenhagen, but as the World Bank’s new World Development Report comprehensively outlines there is a long way to go to secure an adequate response to tackling climate change.  ODI hosted a pre-launch meeting on the World Development Report (WDR) 2010: Development and Climate Change yesterday (a report and video coverage from the event are now online).  Co-authors of the report, Marianne Fay and Kirk Hamilton, provided an overview of the report, to which ODI Research Associate, Simon Maxwell, and Lord Anthony Giddens responded.

This report needs to be widely read and the messages absorbed in the run up to Copenhagen. So what does the report have to say?  Here are seven headline messages:

  1. High-income countries, with one-sixth of the world’s population, are responsible for nearly two-thirds of the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Any global response to climate change is first and foremost about securing global equity between those who carry most responsibility for climate change and those on whom much of the costs will fall – and this is largely a division between the industrialised North and the less developed South.
  2. The goal is to stay close to 2°C above pre-industrial levels.  There is now almost complete global agreement on this target, from the G-8 to the African Partnership Forum.  So at least we know where we want to go. How realistic this goal is in terms of current trajectories is less certain, but one thing is clear, to achieve it will require unprecedented levels of political leadership and commitment.
  3. Achieving such a goal will mean that in the next few decades, the world’s energy systems must be transformed so that global emissions drop 50 to 80 percent.  This remains a huge challenge and one where the industrialised world is making only very limited progress.  Greater accountability from countries to meet the targets they have already committed to achieving is a first necessary step.
  4. New technologies will be indispensable: every energy model reviewed for the WDR report concludes that it is impossible to get onto the 2°C trajectory with only energy efficiency and the diffusion of existing technologies. New or emerging technologies, such as carbon capture and storage, second-generation biofuels, and solar photovoltaics, are also critical. But the question remains as to how the transfer of such technologies between North and South will be governed - this is one thing that the discussions at Copenhagen need to conclude on.
  5. The current financing for adaptation and mitigation is less than 5 percent of what may be needed annually by 2030.  Total climate finance for developing countries is $10 billion a year today, compared with projected requirements of $75 billion for adaptation and $400 billion for mitigation annually by 2030.  There are of course questions of how this level of finance can be absorbed in some low-income economies, but the major focus needs to remain on how this money will be raised (something that the report is noticeably silent on) and the governance arrangements surrounding the disbursement of climate funds. 
  6. Societies will have to almost double the existing rate of agricultural productivity growth while minimizing the associated environmental damage.  The impact of climate change on food production will be considerable, so if this does not bring agriculture back centre-stage to the development debate, nothing will.
  7. Success hinges on changing behaviour and shifting public opinion. This is an important issue that was highlighted by Anthony Giddens.  In a world where forty percent of the population in developed countries remain climate sceptics there is a huge amount to be done still on awareness raising in both North and South.

This all appears to add up to a coherent – and implementable – strategy to tackle climate change in the years ahead. It is unlikely, given the ambition, that all of this will be agreed in December.  That said, an important step has been made, with the biggest player in international development using this report to firmly acknowledge the unprecedented scale of the challenge that we now all face.  The Bank is also highlighting that in any response to climate change the global community must address the issue of equity between North and South.