Climate change rises on World Bank agenda
By Deborah Zabarenko, Environment Correspondent
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Climate change is now one of the World Bank's top concerns because of its expected impact on health and economic growth in developing countries, the bank's lead environmental economist said.
Latin America, Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia are where global warming's damage will disproportionately be felt, and that makes it a key issue for the World Bank and other financial institutions aiming to foster development, said Kirk Hamilton, co-author of the Global Monitoring Report.
The environmental damage is happening now in the world's poorest places and is likely to be exacerbated as the planet warms, with strong consequences as soon as 2020, Hamilton said in a telephone interview.
"I think there's some risk, not just at the World Bank but globally, that some people might think that climate change is flavor of the month but ... we see these deep connections to development," he said.
The bank's shift to considering climate change as an essential factor in calculating development needs has come in the past two years amid bleak predictions from the Stern Commission Report and the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
"Scientists are telling us that there are high degrees of confidence that what we're observing is human-induced climate change and that business-as-usual scenarios in terms of emissions of greenhouse gases are leading us into dangerous territory," Hamilton said.
POOR COUNTRIES TO SUFFER MOST
The Global Monitoring Report, released in advance of weekend meetings of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund in Washington, contains two meaty chapters on global environmental sustainability.
"Poor countries will suffer the most from, and are able to adapt the least to, the effects of climate change," one environmental chapter said. "For developing countries, the best way to adapt to climate change is to promote inclusive development."
Developing and low-income countries are far more dependent on natural resources than rich countries, with some 40 percent of their national wealth depending on these resources, Hamilton said.
But exploiting these resources without making sure they can be sustained is no path toward development, he added.
"If these resources are degraded, depleted, polluted, then the sustainability of what we're trying to achieve ... is in question," he said.
That includes agriculture.
"If you're mining the fertility of the soil in order to feed people then you're not going to be able to do that forever," Hamilton said.
He took issue with recent criticism of the World Bank's role in financing parts of the fight against climate change. Critics at an international meeting in Bangkok suggested the World Bank aimed to seize control of the billions of dollars in aid to tackle the problem in the coming decades.
Given the vast amounts of money required -- as much as $67 billion just to help the world adapt to climate change by 2030 -- Hamilton said the World Bank should be involved, as well as agencies of the United Nations and individual governments.
"I guess I would argue a bit with those sorts of arguments that say 'What is the bank doing in here?"' he said. "We're in the development business and adapting to climate change is going to be about good development."
(Editing by John O'Callaghan)
(For more Reuters information on the environment, see http://blogs.reuters.com/environment/ )