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Dangerous Levels of Global Warming are Unavoidable, Says the World Bank

Despite projecting significant declines in crop yields, the international bank did not pledge to fully diversify from fossil fuel investments.
Image via AP/Mike Groll

Global temperatures will rise nearly 1.5 degrees Celsius, or 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit, above pre-industrial levels by the middle of the century regardless of actions taken to curb emissions, according to a report from the World Bank released Sunday. The rising temperatures are already disproportionately affecting developing countries and the world's poorest citizens.

Current energy demands mean the world is committed to emitting more greenhouse gases, which will stay in the atmosphere for decades. That means that even with "very ambitious mitigation action," the report states, temperatures will continue to rise past the 0.8 degrees Celsius increase already seen today.


"That's a big message," Samantha Smith, head of climate for the WWF, told VICE News. "Globally, what all countries have agreed to is that they're going to keep warming under two degrees Celsius. This report is telling us that 1.5 degrees is too much for a lot of people."

In the three areas examined in the new report — Latin America and the Caribbean, the Middle East and North Africa, and the Western Balkans and Central Asia — climate change will lead to reduced crop yields and worsened drought, bringing threats to water supplies.In Brazil, soybean crop yields could decrease by as much as 70 percent, and wheat by as much as 50 percent, if temperatures increase two degrees by 2050. Jordan, Egypt, and Libya could see crop yields decrease by 30 percent.

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In Russia, melting permafrost and tree death in boreal forests are releasing stored methane and carbon, adding more greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. A similar pattern is being seen in the Amazon rainforest, which absorbs 20 percent of the carbon dioxide emitted from the burning of fossil fuels, according to the environmental organization Amazon Watch. A two degree increase could wipe out 90 percent of coral reefs, devastating coastal ecosystems and the economies and fisheries that depend on them.

"When we talk to policy makers, they seem to be able to pivot and think extreme weather events are not affecting us right now," Sasanka Thilakasiri, policy advisor for Oxfam International, told VICE News. "To me, the report is important in just sort of saying these impacts are happening now, and we're on a path to having them even more exacerbated if we don't do anything."


The report, which was authored by researchers at The Potsdam Institute, a German climate research center, linked recent extreme heat in the observed regions to climate change with 80 percent certainty.

The report comes at a busy moment for climate change negotiations — just one week before a United Nations climate conference in Peru and two weeks after the United States and China, the two largest emitters, announced a joint agreement on emissions reductions. President Obama committed the United States to cutting emissions 26-28 percent by 2025 compared to 2005 levels, while China's president Xi Jinping said his country's emissions would peak "around 2030."

'This is a problem for both rich and poor.'

Last week, 30 nations pledged $9.3 billion over the next four years to the Green Climate Fund, designed to help developing nations reduce emissions and adapt to the consequences of climate change caused largely by the actions of richer nations. The United States pledged $3 billion. At the fund's inception, it was envisioned to provide $100 billion a year by 2020.

"This is a problem for both rich and poor," Thilakasiri told VICE News. "It's in everyone's best interest that we can provide the financing that's needed to move the global economy away from our carbon habit."

The World Bank hasn't invested any funds in coal use in the last five years but it did not make a commitment to divesting entirely from fossil fuel exploration and technology development.


"We cannot ask these energy-poor countries to wait until there are ways of, for example, ensuring that solar and wind power can provide the kind of base load that all countries need in order to industrialize," Jim Yong Kim, president of the World Bank, said. "We believe very strongly that the poorest countries have a right to energy. And all of the fossil fuel burning, for example, in Africa, would not contribute any significant amount to the overall carbon that's in the air."

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While the World Bank's overall investments in fossil fuels have decreased since 2008, the organization spent $1 billion financing fossil fuel exploration in 2013, according to Oil Change International

"That, from our perspective, is a problem, because it is exactly these kinds of projects that are burning the stuff that's causing climate change," WWF's Smith told VICE News. "When it comes to developed countries shouldering their weight, we're seeing some political signals, but they're very far from being strong enough or fast enough or at the scale that we need to really do something."

Follow Laura Dattaro on Twitter: @ldattaro