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Fact Sheet: Global Environmental Sustainability: Protecting the Commons

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Global management of climate, ocean fisheries, and biodiversity will help reach the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of environmental sustainability and sustain economic progress.

Arrow Climate change will have global impact, but developing countries will suffer the most. And they are least able to adapt. 

Action is needed on two fronts: adaptation (to limit and manage climate change impacts) and mitigation (to permit continued economic growth by reducing its carbon content).

How human activity affects climate 

green arrowGlobal warming is caused by greenhouse gases (GHGs) such as carbon dioxide (CO2) which are produced by burning fossil fuels and by deforestation. GHGs trap solar radiation, causing the earth’s surface temperature to rise. During the past 15 years scientists have reached a consensus that the earth is warming and that this warming is the result of human activities. Eleven of the last 12 years are among the warmest recorded since 1850, and temperatures in the Arctic are rising twice as fast as the rest of the world. 
green arrowThe CO2 concentration in the atmosphere has increased from about 277 parts per million volume (ppm) in 1744 to 384 ppm in 2007 (CDIAC 2008, NOAA 2008). Without serious attempts to reduce GHG emissions, the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere could reach 650-750 ppm or more by 2100 (IPCC 2007). 
green arrowIf the world reaches 650-750 ppm of CO2 equivalents (CO2e), there is a serious risk of mean global warming of 5˚ C, resulting in catastrophic heat waves, heavy precipitation in northern latitudes, drought in subtropical areas, and melting of snow and ice cover. 

IPCC projections show that climate change is not a “future” problem

Hands holding bowl over dry land

Climate change is often seen as a “future” problem, but by 2020-29—just 12 years from now—there may be significant temperature changes in Africa and Latin America.

Avoiding the risk of large temperature changes in 2090-99 requires action now. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC, 2007) notes that world GHG emissions would have to decline by 50 to 85 percent of their 2000 levels by 2050 to stabilize concentrations at 450 ppm, depending on the mitigation path chosen.

To stabilize at 550 ppm, world GHG emissions would have to decrease by as much as 30 percent from 2000 levels by 2050, depending on the mitigation path chosen.

How climate change affects poor people 
green arrowAccording to Cline (2007), the largest agricultural losses due to climate change will occur in parts of Africa and Latin America, and in South Asia. 
green arrowClimate change will affect human health both directly—increasing the risk of cardiovascular disease in heat waves and accidental deaths and injuries in climate-related natural disasters —and indirectly—increasing risk of diarrheal disease in young children, food insecurity and malnutrition, and the incidence of malaria and other vector-borne diseases. 
green arrowWith a one-meter rise in sea level, assuming current land uses and no adaptation, Vietnam would lose 28 percent of its wetlands and Egypt 13 percent of its agricultural land (Dasgupta & others, 2007). Read article.
green arrowEast Asia is affected far less per capita by extreme weather events than South Asia or Africa, although total damages are high. In per capita terms, Bangladesh is over three times as affected as India (Weather Damage Index, Buys & others, 2007). 

Adaptation to climate change

green arrowAchieving the MDG targets for poverty reduction, improved nutrition, and less child mortality and malaria will help adapt effectively to the most adverse health risks of climate change. 
green arrowEconomic growth and a shift to manufacturing and services-based employment will reduce the vulnerability of poor people in agricultural economies. 
green arrowIn agriculture, adaptation involves selecting the right weather-resistant crops. For example, farmers in Orissa, India grow champeswar rice, which is flood-resistant. In Africa, Kurukulasuriya and Mendelsohn (2007) find that as precipitation rises or falls, farmers shift toward water-loving or drought-tolerant crops. 
green arrowEarly warnings can help people to adjust to adverse weather. In Mali, the national meteorological service transmits information about rainfall and soil moisture through a network of farmers’ organizations and local governments. 
green arrowDefensive infrastructure includes sea walls to protect against storm surges, irrigation systems that store monsoon rains and flood control measures. The Stern Review reports that $3.5 billion spent on flood control in China (1960-2000) avoided losses of $12 million. 
Weather-index insurance (WII)

Man under a tree WII can help farmers cope with weather shocks and bad weather conditions likely to worsen with climate change. It works better than traditional crop insurance because it is based on a weather index that is used as a proxy for production losses.

Weather index insurance has recently been introduced in pilot projects in Ethiopia, India, Kenya, Malawi, Mexico, Morocco, Nicaragua, Peru, Thailand, Tunisia, and the Ukraine.

In Malawi, policies sold to farmers are based on a rainfall index calibrated to the rainfall needs of the crop. The Malawi WII has been bundled with credit to allow farmers to repay input loans in the face of severe drought. But the success of WII depends on sufficient meteorological stations, a particular problem in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Mitigating GHG emissions 
green arrowTo stabilize GHG emissions as countries grow, emissions per unit of GDP must fall. This can occur by reducing the energy used per unit of their output, the fossil fuel used per unit of energy, or the amount of carbon in a unit of fossil fuel. There is scope for improving energy efficiency in manufacturing and in the power sector in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, China, and India. 
green arrowThere is also scope for developing renewable energy sources (solar, wind and hydro power; geothermal energy; and biofuels), especially in Sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America (Buys & others, 2007). 
green arrowFinancing for low-carbon growth could come from a carbon market in which developing countries sell emission reduction credits to countries that would find it more expensive to reduce carbon emissions themselves. “No regrets” options for improving energy efficiency—ones that would pay for themselves in fuel savings—may exist if subsidies for energy consumption and production are removed (World Bank 2006). 
Using carbon markets to stop deforestation

Rainforest in Brazil A new carbon credit program—Reducing Emissions in Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD)—under negotiation within the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) could provide the right incentives to avoid forest loss.

As Chomitz (2007) notes, clearing a hectare of dense rainforest in the Brazilian Amazon for crop or pasture land could release 500 tons of CO2.

The present value of the cleared land is $100-$200. At a carbon price of $10/ton of CO2, forest worth $5000 is being destroyed for land use 1/20th as valuable.

See 2006 World Bank Policy Research Report "At Loggerheads: Agricultural Expansion, Poverty Reduction and Environment in the Tropical Forests".

Photo credits: Louise Roach, Calimoro, and Asdf_1 | 

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