World Bank warns it’s time to focus on climate adaptation

By John Parnell

The World Bank has urged governments to pay more attention to climate change adaptation as some of the most vulnerable regions of the world begin to feel the impact of warming.

A study released on Wednesday focused on the impacts felt in sub-Saharan Africa, South East Asia and South Asia with warming of 1.5°C, 2°C and 4°C. The Bank calls for efforts to cope with these changes must become part of the regions’ development strategies.

“Our work on climate and disaster resilience need to be brought together and this is important. Disaster risk management needs to be mainstreamed into development,” said Rachel Kyte, VP for sustainable development at the World Bank.

“We are continuing to step up the work we do in resilience and adaptation. In the past year we have doubled our work in adaptation and this is something that needs to continue,” she added.

Adaptation projects, such as flood defences, tree planting and soil improvement can struggle to find investment (Source: International Center for Tropical Agriculture)

The Turn Down the Heat: Climate Extremes, Regional Impacts, and the Case for Resilience report identifies a significant threat to global food security.

Shifting rainfall patterns and prolonged periods of extreme heat and damage to fish stocks from warming and acidifying oceans. It also assesses the long term the threat of rising sea levels and tropical storm surges.

With multiple threats focused on some of the poorest nations in the world, Kyte also called for investment at a city level to protect against the specific threats faced at a smaller, regional level.

“Many cities will need extraordinary levels of investment tin climate resilient infrastructure over the next 10-20 years,” she said.


Last week New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced a $20bn adaptation strategy for the city as it looks to minimise a repeat of the $50bn of damage that Superstorm Sandy did last year.

Bill Hare, director of the Climate Analytics who co-authored the report and its precursor Turn Down the Heat: Why a 4°C Warmer World Must be Avoided, said governments had some of the responsibility to prepare for the threats posed by climate change.

“The first and obvious thing they can do is to make sure we don’t get to 4°C of warming and that we limit it to below 2°C or even lower. Otherwise the risks appear to be quite unmanageable,” Hare told RTCC.

“The other thing they could do is to start investing in the adaptation measures needed to cope with 2°C or 1.5°C. That means, for example, investing in water management, better infrastructure for irrigation and human consumption in South East Asia.

“We also need more research into breeding crops that are resistant to high temperatures and drought,” he added.


Adaptation has been described as being as “unsexy and necessary as insurance”. Investments in projects to buffer the effects of climate change often have less obvious routes to profit than those that reduce emissions, and costs.

The result is a reduction in appetite to address the adaptation challenge.

“I think for those of us in the scientific community and the adaptation community it’s extremely frustrating and even alarming that as the science gets stronger political attention seems to be drifting further and further away from doing something about the problem of climate change,” said Hare.

“It’s understandable, there’s been a global financial crisis, but we are coming through that now and attention needs to focus on the bigger problem that is climate change,” he added.

“The World Bank has seized on this as an issue. I suspect because their own staff specialising in development have already begun to see the consequences of climate change on the regions in which it is working,” said Hare.

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