If the old adage about proximity to power remains true then the World Bank Group (WBG) is well placed to achieve its dual aims of ending extreme poverty by 2030 and boosting shared prosperity. Located in the heart of Washington, DC and just a couple of blocks from the White House, its headquarters house thousands of development professionals, all of whom are determined to change the world for the better – including tackling global warming.
Among them is British national James Close, a director in the WBG’s Climate Change Group. Having only joined the organisation a couple of years ago, he has plunged into his work at full throttle, fired up by the WBG’s recognition that without addressing global warming, there is no chance of ending poverty.
“Although there has been a significant reduction in the number of extreme poor over the last generation, there are still over one billion people in the world living on $1.25 a day,” he points out. “We can’t sustain the progress we’ve collectively made in taking people out of extreme poverty if we don’t address climate change, particularly given that developing countries are the ones that are the most exposed,” he says. “And from the point of view of development, if we’re not thinking about resilience, then we run the risk of ineffective use of development funding. Our donors are committed to ensuring that climate change and resilience is incorporated into what we do.”
This December, international climate talks will take place in Paris. Held under the auspices of the United Nations, the conference – also known as COP21 – aims to achieve a legally binding and universal climate agreement from all the nations of the world. Close believes that any deal “needs to recognise the rights and responsibilities of countries, as well as their obligations.” He says that if we are going to make the transition to a zero carbon world, which is required before the end of the century to keep temperature increases below 2°C, we need to transform the economy. “Governments, cities, investors and businesses are taking this seriously, beginning to recognise how different the world will be in the future.”
In the run-up to the talks, the WBG is seeking to underline the risks posed by climate change and its potential to roll back decades of development progress. A key component of this approach is ensuring that all of its development activities consider the impact of climate change. For example, its International Development Association (IDA) – the part of the WBG that helps the world’s poorest countries by providing loans and grants for programmes that boost economic growth, reduce inequalities and improve people’s living conditions – had its 17th replenishment last year with $52 billion added to its funding. One of the commitments of IDA lending is that all projects will be screened for resilience and climate change.
“This gives us our mandate to make sure that all our operations are going to be resilient in the face of a changing climate and it enables us to think about climate change in designing our operations,” says Close. “We are starting to stimulate a different way of thinking at the Bank around how these operations are undertaken. Rather than just ticking some boxes to say that a certain project is resilient to climate change, our teams are thinking more about how to build a country partnership framework that persuades a country to think differently about its approach to climate change and redesign projects funded by our lending.”
He is keen to stress that the push to prioritise climate change is a two-way street – countries themselves recognising the scale of the threat, just as much as organisations such as the WBG. “Sub-Saharan Africa is responsible for 2.3% of global emissions – which is something like less emissions than a city like Philadelphia, for example,” he admits. “But these countries are looking to provide sustainable energy for all their population. They need their citizens to have access to power so that they can grow their economies and have better lives. A country like Ethiopia has fully embraced this agenda. They have a green growth strategy and have done a lot on reforestation and improved watersheds and landscapes.”
The WBG can help this process in a number of ways. In FY2014, its climate investments increased to $11.3 billion – funding that led to climate change related projects in countries around the world. “We want to pioneer and find new ways to do things and then look to roll them out at scale,” he says. “We want to take pilots, show how they work and then deploy them elsewhere. This is a different way of doing development. This isn’t top-down, government led, instead it is owned by people who have a right to those landscapes and forests.”
Global warming, ground zero
Close says he and his colleagues are ambitious, positive and driven by the need to protect the most vulnerable. “The economic transformation required to shift economies to zero net emissions before the end of the century will require public buy-in and changes in support for those most affected,” he says. It’s quite a target but one that he believes is achievable. “We’re already seeing fundamental changes. Renewables are being deployed at a faster rate than ever before, countries are removing fossil fuel subsidies, which primarily benefit the wealthy, and there’s a growing movement to put a price on carbon.”
We need to smooth the transition by helping businesses reinvent themselves for a cleaner world and we need to put countries on a path to decarbonise their development. For developing countries this means ensuring that investment funded by overseas development takes into account the changes in climate. “Resilient development is smart development,” says Close, with the conviction that gives you confidence that this is far more than just a soundbite.
Certainly, there is little doubt that action, not talking, must now take precedence. After all, science demonstrates that humans are causing global warming, and changes are already in progress – 14 of the 15 hottest years since record-keeping began over 130 years ago have occurred since the turn of this century.
Donors, client countries and their citizens expect the WBG to maximise the impact of its operations. Something that Close contends is well under way. “The development agenda is continually changing,” he says. “It’s critical to drive the agenda forward to address the challenges of climate change and we’re now better placed than ever.”
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