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Poorer Countries Hardest Hit by Climate Change


Industrialized nations contribute two-thirds of the gaseous emissions believed to be causing global warming. But according to a new World Bank report, it is the world's developing countries which will suffer most from the more extreme droughts, floods and other natural disasters triggered by climate change. The report says financial aid to mitigate the impact of those disasters should come from the wealthier countries.

The World Bank's new 2010 Development Report says that one of the effects climate change has already had on the world's poorer countries is that it is diverting development funds away from their traditional uses, such as road-building, irrigation and infrastructure improvement. Some of those funds are now being used to help countries deal with the destructive effects of more extreme climate events.

Co-author Rosina Bierbaum says a better use of this money would be to pursue the goal of what she calls a "climate-safe world," where global temperatures rise no more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Achieving that goal, says Bierbaum, will require innovation, diplomacy and technology. "This will require enormous transfers of funding, but it will actually be far cheaper if activities are undertaken in both the developing and developed world simultaneously."

Bierbaum says response now can save billions of dollars in the future as expenditures due to climate change rise.

If temperatures do rise 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, poorer countries will face enormous costs associated with floods, droughts and deforestation linked to global warming. Under this scenario, Africa and South Asia are expected to lose as much as five percent of their gross national product.

The report estimates that by 2030 the developing nations will need $75 billion annually to protect against the impacts of climate change, $400 billion for mitigation, and hundreds of billions for energy research and development.

"We can't ask the developing world to pay for these things," Bierbaum says. "If we do not act together the costs will be more than double, and we will preclude the possibility of keeping temperatures below dangerous levels."

Bierbaum says the cost is less than one percent of the world's gross domestic product.

She acknowledges the global recession may make it difficult to raise funds, but says the worldwide response to the economic downturn has actually had a positive impact. About $200 billion dollars of global stimulus money "has some green component to it." Bierbam says that has greatly bolstered monies available for energy efficiency, for some of the next generation carbon capture and sequestration technologies and for renewable energy."

The new report also notes a marked change in the World Bank's loan strategies. Kathy Sierra, the Bank's Vice President for Sustainable Development, says there's been a sharp increase in loans directed to renewable-energy development and improvements in energy-efficiency in programs already underway: "Last year we had the highest year ever. We reached $3.3 billion in funding for renewables and energy efficiency. That was a 24 percent increase over the year before. It's now about 40 percent of our portfolio."

Sierra hopes the World Bank report will be a "call to action" that contributes to a wider debate over energy solutions and the on-going global climate talks. She believes those negotiations should take the report's climate-related development issues into account. "Hopefully," she says, "this will add to the body of knowledge which is there that will drive towards success in Copenhagen."

It's in Copenhagen where governments will meet this December to decide on a new treaty to replace the UN-sponsored Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change, which expires in 2012. While the United States never ratified that accord, it did agree to negotiate a new agreement by the end of 2009.

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