Ideas & Debate

Climate-smart world is possible in our lifetime

The world’s poor will bear the brunt of the impact of global climate change. As the planet warms, rainfall patterns shift, and extreme events such as droughts, floods, and forest fires become more frequent.

Millions in densely populated coastal areas and in island nations will lose their homes as the sea level rises. In Africa, Asia, and elsewhere, poor people face prospects of tragic crop failures, reduced agricultural productivity, and increasing hunger, malnutrition, and disease.

It will become even harder to attain the Millennium Development Goals – and ensure a safe and sustainable future beyond 2015.

For the people of the developing world — even as they strive to overcome poverty and advance economic growth — climate change threatens to deepen vulnerabilities, erode hard-won gains, and seriously undermine development.

At the same time, they fear limits on their critical call to grow their economies, expand opportunity, and develop energy or new rules that might stifle their many needs, from infrastructure to entrepreneurism. Climate change is one of the most complex challenges of our young century.

Interconnected challenge
Alone, no country can take on the interconnected challenges posed by climate change, which include controversial political decisions, daunting technological change, and far-reaching global consequences.

A “climate-smart” world is possible in our time. Yet, as the World Bank Group’s new World Development Report argues, effecting such a transformation requires us to act now, act together, and act differently. We must act now, because what we do today determines both the climate of tomorrow and the choices that shape our future.

Today, we are emitting greenhouse gases that trap heat in the atmosphere for decades or even centuries. We are building power plants, reservoirs, houses, transport systems, and cities that are likely to last fifty years or more.

The innovative technologies and crop varieties that we pilot today can shape energy and food sources to meet the needs of 3 billion more people by 2050.

We must act together, because climate change is a crisis of the commons. Climate change cannot be solved without countries cooperating on a global scale to improve energy efficiencies, develop and deploy clean technologies, and expand natural “sinks” to grow green by absorbing gasses.

We need to protect human life and ecological resources. Developed countries have produced most of the emissions of the past, and have high per capita emissions.

These countries should lead the way by signficantly reducing their carbon footprints and stimulating research into green alternatives.

Zoellick is the World Bank President.