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The World Bank’s Strategy to Address Climate Change: A Latin American Intern’s Perspective

September 19, 2015
Rising sea levels threaten to eliminate beaches and flood coastal cities and wetlands. This would greatly impact ecosystems and the livelihoods of millions of people that live in these areas, especially in the Caribbean and the Atlantic coast of Brazil (cities like Recife and Rio). Having worked in sustainable development in Latin America for three years, this summer while interning at the World Bank I wanted to understand their role in addressing climate change.

By Laura E. Aguirre Téllez

Climate Change in Latin American and Caribbean countries

Latin America is very heterogeneous when it comes to ecosystems and socio economic contexts, therefore it is hard to paint one picture for the entire region. Unfortunately, we know that the observable climate change in the region will affect the poor and vulnerable. I found it revealing that the region’s inhabitants seem well aware of the threat of climate change, more so than in any other region in the world. The Pew Research Center found in its spring 2015 Survey that a median of 61% of Latin Americans say they are very concerned about climate change, which is the highest share of any region in the World.[1]

The available studies on scenarios of the range and possible magnitude of impacts depict a worrisome image even in conservative models. Moreover, in a 2014 report, the World Bank found evidence that an increase in the temperature–close to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels– is already locked in and some impacts might not be avoided even if drastic measures are taken to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. This means that beyond the effort put into mitigation measures aimed at limiting the magnitude of climate change through reduction in green house gas emissions, there is a need for adaption measures aimed at reducing vulnerability to climate change.

For Latin America, scenarios include decreased water availability meaning harsher droughts and lower agricultural activity, increased ocean acidification and rising sea levels that will affect ecosystem services, livelihoods, and infrastructure, extreme weather events in a region already highly susceptible to tropical cyclones and strong El Niño events, and the melting of the Andean glaciers.[2] The full implications of these situations are something that we are just beginning to understand as more research in areas such as the impacts of heat waves on unborn children and regional impacts are being conducted.

The University of Notre-Dame Global Adaptation Index (ND-GAIN) provides a good first glance at the region heterogeneity. The Index captures both the dimensions of vulnerability to climate change and the country’s readiness to improve resilience. The severity of the impacts of climate change will be affected as factors like exposure, vulnerability, and preparedness differ among countries, regions and populations. The poor and vulnerable will be affected the most since they are less capable of adapting.

 

The World Bank’s strategy to address climate change

The World Bank has two goals: end extreme poverty within a generation and boost shared prosperity. The formulation of these goals intends to set ambitious but achievable objectives, which are also measurable. For the first, extreme poverty is defined as living with less than $1.25 a day, and the goal is for this proportion of people to fall to no more than 3 percent globally by 2030. The second goal is intended to monitor a sustainable increase in the well-being of poorer segments of society, the bottom 40 percent of the population that should see their income grow.

While the fight against poverty is at the center of the Bank’s operations, climate change is also a critical issue since it is not just environmental. For the Bank, climate change is a fundamental threat to sustainable development and the fight against poverty. The effects of climate change can exacerbate current challenges and threaten to set back progress made in the fight against poverty. Many investments in infrastructure in developing countries would not be able to resist more intense cyclones and rising sea levels threaten to flood cities around the world.

In 2013 a new World Bank Group Strategy was approved, which led to internal restructuring. The World Bank is now organized in 14 thematic “global practices” and 5 “cross-cutting solution areas” with climate change as one of these five. The underlying logic is to address the threat posed by climate change in a manner that cuts across the Bank’s work. This group has developed a fourfold strategy that includes:

  1.  Screening its operations, as well as internal processes, for disaster and climate risk. Starting in 2014, all new Country Partnership Frameworks (CPF), which is the guide for the Bank’s programs and projects in a specific country, now assess how operations could be affected by climate change and disaster risks. In fiscal year 2014, 80 percent of active World Bank CPF incorporated disaster and climate risk analysis.
  2.  Playing a key role in the international climate finance architecture, by deploying, leveraging and mobilizing finance. In 2014, the World Bank Group provided 11.8 billion in climate related financing. Tracking and reporting isalso a major issue that the Bank is trying to address. On July 2015, the multilateral development banks and the International Development Finance Club (IDFC) agreed on a common methodology to track the flows of climate financing.
  3. Providing its clients with the best technical support, both tools and analysis.
  4. Advocating and supporting global efforts to keep global warming below 2°C. For instance, at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP21) that will be held in Paris in December 2015.

While the region can benefit from the Bank’s fourfold strategy, I believe the requirement to screen operations for climate risks will most affect the Bank’s relationship with Latin American and Caribbean countries. The strategy could potentially have the most profound effect in the region, because it would translate into a more resilient portfolio and transform how climate and other types of risk are understood and dealt with. In the region that is already highly vulnerable to climate risks and highly aware of threat climate change, this solution could make a significant impact.

  [1]Pew Research Center (2015). Climate Change Seen as Top Global Threat; Americans, Europeans, Middle Easterners Focus on ISIS as Greatest Danger. http://www.pewglobal.org/files/2015/07/Pew-Research-Center-Global-Threats-Report-FINAL-July-14-2015.pdf (Retrieved July 18, 2015).

  [2]On regional patterns of climate change and impacts in Latin America, see chapter 3 of the report. World Bank Group (2014). Turn Down the Heat: Confronting the New Climate Normal. Washington, DC: World Bank. © World Bank. https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/handle/10986/20595 License: CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 IGO.” (Retrieved July 15, 2015).

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