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WB Research on the Challenges of Adapting to Climate Change

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December 3, 2007—Negotiations will begin in Bali this month on a post-2012 climate change deal that is expected to expand the Kyoto Protocol—an international agreement now signed and ratified by over 170 countries—to reduce global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

In the run-up to the Bali summit, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) released new data showing that the total GHG emissions of 40 industrialized countries rose to a near all-time high in 2005.

It is widely accepted that poor people are likely to suffer the worst from global warming. In many developing countries, higher temperatures and less rainfall are expected to cause severe problems, especially for small farmers and people living near large river deltas.

In response, the World Bank supports renewable energy and energy efficiency projects, new bio-energy technologies, and forest preservation through conservation projects and carbon finance credits.

The Bank also conducts rigorous research on climate change to guide its operational strategies and offer better advice to member countries.

Climate change poses a huge threat to many of the world’s poorest people, who are often the least able to cope with the consequences,” said Martin Ravallion , Director of the World Bank’s Development Research Group . “But there is still much more that we need to learn about how to reduce that threat, and how to help the poor adapt to the changes that lie ahead .”

An important aspect of this research agenda is its focus on adaptation to climate change – an issue that has received increasing attention since Kyoto. For most UNFCCC parties with relatively low emissions, adaptation is a critical challenge in framing policies that respond to climate change.

No one-size-fits-all solution for Africa, where millions will be affected

Even without climate change, African agriculture faces serious challenges—land degradation, inadequate irrigation, rural-to-urban migration, political instability, and stagnant economies. All this is complicated by slow technological progress.

A research project supported by the Global Environment Facility, the Center for Environmental Economics and Policy in Africa (CEEPA), and other partners, analyzed—for the first time—climate impact and adaptation in 11 African countries .

The results suggest that millions of agriculture-dependent, water-deprived people in the most vulnerable countries will need information, technologies, and supporting institutions to adapt to further climate deterioration.

Policies, however, should be customized to meet the varying needs of individual countries. The effects of climate change vary significantly across Africa, and so a blanket approach will be less effective in helping farmers to adapt.

This research shows that large regions of marginal agriculture in Africa may be forced out of production by 2100, while others will thrive ,” said Ariel Dinar , Lead Economist in the World Bank’s Development Research Group, and co-author of the research summary paper with Robert Mendelsohn of Yale University (and a consultant to the World Bank), and Rashid Hassan and James Benhin of CEEPA . “What we take away from it is that some countries are more vulnerable than others, and help should be focused where it is needed most .”

For example, 90 percent of the population in Burkina Faso, one of the poorest countries in the world, is engaged in mostly subsistence agriculture—extremely vulnerable to rainfall variation.

For more country examples, see the CEEPA  website.


Key findings in Africa:
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Farmers are likely to try to change the crops they grow today in response to new climate conditions. To improve the available choices, agronomic research must develop new crop varieties that are better suited for higher temperatures.


African farmers are likely to move towards livestock under future climate conditions

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Farmers in Africa are likely to move slowly toward livestock (especially goats and sheep). Managing livestock in Africa is likely to be more profitable than growing crops under future climate conditions. What small farmers will need is expert animal husbandry advice that will help them plan ahead.
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Rainfed farms will be more intensely affected by climate change—whether for better or for worse—than irrigated farms. Where water and infrastructure are available, irrigation will help farmers adapt to higher temperature and less rainfall.

Dryland agriculture in Latin America is likely to suffer the most

A 2007 cross-country study in Latin America (funded and managed by the World Bank) has found strong evidence that agriculture in the region will be vulnerable to the effects of higher temperatures, though these effects are likely to vary from place to place.

In the worst case, farms could lose up to 62 percent of their value by 2100, the study projects. Even with less severe temperature increases, the value lost is likely to be at least 30 percent. In the most modest scenario, the loss is estimated at about 15 percent.

The brunt of the impact is likely to be felt by dryland farmers facing increasingly hot temperatures,” said Robert Mendelsohn , co-author of this study with Antonio Flavio Dias Avila (Embrapa, Brazil) and S. Niggol Seo (Yale). “Countries like Bolivia and Paraguay are likely to face severe damage under very hot and dry conditions .”

Key findings in Latin America:

Small farms in LAC

Small and large farms may be equally vulnerable to global warming

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Small and large farms appear to be equally vulnerable to global warming

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Farmers will change the type of farm, irrigation, crops, and livestock, depending on climate change. Farmers in wet temperate locations choose to grow crops, those in dry locations choose to raise livestock, and those in hot locations often choose to raise both crops and livestock.

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Lessons for hotter zones can be drawn from Israel, where farmers are more likely to cover their crops in higher temperatures and to invest in capital intensive irrigation systems—measures that have helped grow crops in very hot locations.

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Governments can help provide technological alternatives such as drought- and heat-tolerant seeds that can reduce the damage caused by global warming.  They can also help manage water resources to increase water for high-value irrigation.

Preparing for the Impacts of Sea Level Rise

Recent World Bank research has found that the impacts of a one-meter rise in sea level will be profound in the developing world, potentially turning 56 million people in 84 developing countries into environmental refugees.

In terms of population affected, the top 10 countries/territories worldwide are: Vietnam, Egypt, Mauritania, Suriname, Guyana, French Guiana, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, the Bahamas and Benin.

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In Vietnam, an estimated 10.8 percent of the nation’s population will be displaced with one-meter sea level rise, with very high impacts in the Mekong and Red River deltas.

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Egypt’s Nile Delta will be similarly affected, with 10.5 percent of the population at risk, and 25 percent of the delta inundated.

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In South Asia, Bangladesh will have the largest share of land affected.

Adaptation plans to sea level rise should include protecting coastlines and retreating vulnerable facilities away from the coast. While the rise in sea level will be gradual, it makes countries more vulnerable to coastal flooding as a result of storm surges.

A few countries have initiated adaptation plans, but the momentum of action has been slow. We hope that the information provided in this paper will encourage more rapid action on this front,” said Susmita Dasgupta, Lead Economist in the World Bank’s Development Research Group and co-author of the research with Benoit Laplante, Craig MeisnerDavid Wheeler , and Jianping Yan.

See detailed research

Country Stakes in Climate Change Negotiations

New research (using composite measures drawn from a geo-referenced database of indicators related to global change and energy) provides insights on the attitudes that countries are likely to display on international treaties regulating carbon emissions.

The analysis, presented in World Bank policy research working paper # 4300 , classifies countries in terms of their vulnerability along two dimensions:  

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“Source vulnerability” which looks at access to fossil fuels and renewable energy, and the potential size of employment and income shocks following the introduction of some form of carbon tax.

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“Impact vulnerability” or proneness to climate-related hazards and sea-level riseor.

Our findings suggest that there is enough regional clustering to warrant some attention to regional strategies,” said Uwe Deichmann , Senior Environmental Specialist in the Bank’s Development Research Group and co-author of the paper with Piet Buys, Craig Meisner, Thao Ton That, and David Wheeler. “For example, human vulnerability to weather events is much higher in general in South and East Asia than in the Middle East and North Africa .”

But countries within regions sometimes vary widely in their orientation toward a global protocol, and there is a strong case for country-specific tailoring. This confirms what has been found in micro-level studies.

Most importantly, mechanisms for compensation and cross-subsidy are vital when negotiating with the group of countries that have both unfavorable stakes in a global protocol and very high existing CO2 emission levels.

See detailed research

Incentives to Reduce Emissions from Deforestation


Forests are being destroyed for a fraction of their worth in carbon markets if left standing

Deforestation at five percent a decade is steadily depleting a valuable resource base for millions of people who depend on forests for survival. It also contributes to about 20 percent of annual global CO2 emissions and seriously threatens biodiversity.

A 2006 World Bank policy research report entitled “At Loggerheads? Agricultural Expansion, Poverty Reduction and Environment in the Tropical Forestsargued that valuable carbon trading incentives were not being utilized to prevent deforestation.

In countries like Brazil, Indonesia, and Madagascar, forests are being destroyed for a fraction of what they would be worth in carbon markets if left standing,” said the report’s lead author Kenneth Chomitz, of the World Bank. “The report reviews the obstacles impeding forest carbon trading, and offers workable solutions .”

At Bali, World Bank President Robert Zoellick will officially announce the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility. This facility will help prevent deforestation by compensating developing countries for carbon dioxide reductions realized by preserving their forests.


Forthcoming Climate Change & Agriculture in Africa: Impact Assessment and Adaptation Strategies by Ariel Dinar, Rashid Hassan, Robert Mendelsohn, James Benhin, and Others. London: EarthScan.

 “Will African Agriculture Survive Climate Change?” Pradeep Kurukulasuriya , Robert Mendelsohn, Rashid Hassan, James Benhin, Temesgen Deressa, Mbaye Diop, Helmy Mohamed Eid, K. Yerfi Fosu, Glwadys Gbetibouo, Suman Jain, Ali Mahamadou, Renneth Mano, Jane Kabubo-Mariara, Samia El-Marsafawy, Ernest Molua, Samiha Ouda, Mathieu Ouedraogo, Isidor Séne, David Maddison, S. Niggol Seo, and Ariel Dinar, World Bank Economic Review 20(3):367-388, 2006.

Project: Incorporation of Climate Change to the Strategies of Rural Development: Synthesis of the Latin American Results . By Robert Mendelsohn, Antonio Flavio Dias Avila, and S. Niggol Seo, 2007

Country Stakes in Climate Negotiations: Two Dimensions of Vulnerability,” Piet Buys, Uwe Deichmann, Craig Meisner, Thao Ton That, and David Wheeler, Policy Research Working Paper 4300, World Bank, 2007.

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
























































































































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