World Bank Warns Climate Change Could Devastate Global Economy

A four degree Celsius increase would result in a very different world economy.

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An iceberg melts in Kulusuk, Greenland, near the Arctic Circle in 2005.

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The World Bank warned Sunday that if climate change isn't stopped or slowed down, the global economy will suffer greatly.

The report, titled "Turn Down the Heat," envisions a world that is warmer by an average of 4 degrees Celsius (7.2 degrees Fahrenheit). According to Jim Yong Kim, president of the World Bank, the report is meant to "shock [the world] into action."

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"A 4 degree Celsius world is so different from the current one that it comes with high uncertainty and new risks that threaten our ability to anticipate and plan for future adaptation needs," he writes.

A global temperature increase like one estimated by the World Bank would lead to "the inundation of coastal cities; increasing risks for food production, potentially leading to higher malnutrition rates; many dry regions becoming dryer, wet regions wetter; unprecedented heat waves in many regions," water scarcity, and more natural disasters.

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The organization chose to analyze a four-degree increase because that's the worst-case scenario envisioned by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change—and it could be a reality as early as 2060.

Though the report makes no specific financial estimates, it says a warming world would wreak havoc on farming, overload countries' health systems, and would disproportionately affect the poor. It would push up food prices, make 35 percent of farmland in sub-Saharan Africa unsuitable for agriculture, and would extend the ranges of certain diseases.

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Rachel Kyte, the World Bank's vice president for the sustainable development network, says the organization commissioned the report to help governments and businesses understand the urgency of the problem as countries deal with a global recession.

"We need to understand how to continue to meet the needs of the poor today while curbing emissions so we can meet the needs of the poor in the future," she says. "There are things every country can do now that doesn't mean they're growing their economies in a dirty way now and saying they'll clean it up later."

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That means countries should be looking into infrastructure upgrades that use clean energy, developing nations should consider encouraging urban growth with sea level rise in mind, and considering the long-term health of their economies instead of focusing on quick fixes.

"The short term political cycles sometimes fit uneasily with long-term decision making," Kyte says. "We hope this paper makes it more difficult for policy makers to ignore the science. The science is unequivocal."

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Jason Koebler is a science and technology reporter for U.S. News & World Report. You can follow him on Twitter or reach him at jkoebler@usnews.com.