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World Bank Issues Alarming Climate Report


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm David Greene.


And I'm Renee Montagne.

The latest round of United Nations climate talks wraps up today. The countries gathered in Doha were not able to come up with a major agreement on reducing carbon emissions and slowing global warming. This comes after an alarming report from the World Bank. It predicts global temperatures could rise by 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century, possibly sooner, if current promises to curb emissions are not kept.

I sat down with a head of the World Bank, Jim Yong Kim, at his headquarters to find out more.

Your first sentence in this report is that you hope it shocks the world into action. What in your estimation are the most shocking findings?

JIM YOUNG KIM: Well, one of the things that we stress is that there is overwhelming convergence around the science of man-made climate change. This wasn't always true, but now some 97 percent of climate scientists agree that man-made climate change is a reality.

I'm a scientist. I'm trained in medicine. They are very few things in all of science around which 97 percent of scientists agree. And then if you take that reality and project out to what a four degree Celsius or over seven degree Fahrenheit world would look like, the images that we now are hearing about, the way the world is going to look, is very frightening. One estimate suggests that if we don't meet our emission targets, a 7.2 degree Fahrenheit world could happen as early as 2060. That means that when my three-year-old is my age, he'll be living in this world where the coral reefs would have all been gone. The extreme heat wave that we saw in Russia in 2010 that killed 55,000 people would happen every summer.

MONTAGNE: Yeah, you mentioned Russia, one of the more stunning sites. It seemed like the country, certainly the countryside, was on fire.

KIM: Yeah. One of the things that we're noticing is that the so-called once-in-a-lifetime events are happening all the time. So we had an once-in-a-lifetime drought this past summer, then we had an once-in-a-lifetime hurricane in Sandy, and we saw the damage that occurred. And I think the conversation has been changing in the United States with those two events. What we're saying is this is going to happen on a much more frequent basis and we've got to get serious about reducing greenhouse gases.

MONTAGNE: This report points out that poor countries will be hit even harder than developed countries. Tell us about that.

KIM: Let me just give you a few scenarios. So what were we most worried about with the rise in corn and wheat prices over this past summer, due to the U.S. drought, but also drops in other parts of the world. What happens when corn and wheat prices rise is that we see real increases in malnutrition and under-nutrition. And when children are malnourished, their brain development actually slows down and is affected. So this is not just a short-term impact. When you have under and malnutrition due to climate change-induced drought, you have a serious problem well into the future.

MONTAGNE: Well, traditionally the World Bank - the mission of the World Bank - is to tackle poverty around the world. Traditionally it has supported big projects, including power plants. In the last few years I know the focus has changed. But how much has it changed? And give us a sample of the sort of things that the World Bank is now doing.

KIM: Well, just as an example, very recently, in 2007, some 22 percent of our projects in energy were focused on renewables. And by 2012, that number is 44 percent, so we doubled in a five-year period, and that number will only grow over time. But we are focused on poverty. And in places like Africa, where the need for electricity is just desperate, you cannot lift people out of poverty without energy. We have to balance our responsibility to help countries improve their energy supply with this absolute need to do more around renewables.

Now, you know, I'm very encouraged. The market for renewable energy in developing countries is exploding. And I was just in Haiti and looking at a particular power plant that now runs on heavy fuel. They said that just recently the cost of solar power has now dipped below the cost of heavy fuel and it's going to go down even further, and as it goes down further, they're very seriously thinking about switching to renewable sources. Those are the kind of changes we made to see all over the world.

MONTAGNE: In this report you say that it makes economic sense to develop these technologies. It seems like it does and it doesn't. I mean makes good sense for some people - new companies, what-not, but how can you convince countries when you see this natural gas boom and, you know, their technologies are tied to these old kinds of fuel?

KIM: The folks who experienced Hurricane Sandy experienced it directly. The folks who went through the drought experienced it directly. The 55,000 people who died during the Russian heat wave experienced it directly. And as the citizens begin to understand the impact of carbon emissions on their everyday lives, I think that the cry to do something will get louder and louder. And I'm just suggesting that countries and companies should get out in front of it.

MONTAGNE: Jim Yong Kim is president of the World Bank. Dr. Kim, thank you very much.

JIM YONG KIM: Thank you, Renee. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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