Climate change: Look past rhetoric and act now

When you know a dangerous storm is coming, you prepare, right? You seal your doors and windows and make sure your loved ones are out of harm’s way. If you’re building a home on the coast, you think about those storms in advance and pay attention to sea level changes and the risk of storm surges and flooding. On the plains, you calculate wildfire risks and build to minimize wind damage.

The tangible payoff is obviousless damage to lives and property. 

Yet, when scientists warn of the risks that are building with the world’s increasing greenhouse gas emissionsrisks to global food and water supplies, and more intense storms that threaten lives and propertytoo many officials throw up their hands and say that taking action is too expensive and that changing behaviors to mitigate future damage is just too hard. 

Look past the rhetoric of the status quo.

First, the risks ahead are too high not to act on climate change. Second, there are actions we can take now that save money and improve lives today. 

Did you know that by reducing the burning of fossil fuels, we reduce the amount of soot in the air that causes respiratory illness like asthma?

In Eastern Europe and Central Asia, air pollution from extensive burning of fossil fuels causes about $20 billion a year in health costs. In India, outdoor air pollution from the burning of fossil fuels costs the country 1.7 percent of GDP in health costs. One proposal to reduce particulate matter in India by 30 percent would cut health expenses by $105 billion. Factoring in the cost to get that reduction, the country would save $8 billion, improve its people’s health, and reduce its contributions to climate change. 

Methane, a potent greenhouse gas, is another valuable target. Technology today can capture methane from landfills, livestock operations, and oil, gas, and mining enterprises and put it to use generating power.

Biogas from a Monterrey, Mexico landfill is powering the region’s public services, including much of its lightrail system, and in the process cutting fossil fuel use. The alternative, releasing methane into the atmosphere, contributes to climate change and ozone, which can damage crop yields, as well as harm public health. 

Lower health costs and energy savings are just two co-benefits of acting now to dial back the drivers of climate change that are already taking a toll on global economies. The World Bank is working with the Global Commission on the Environment and Climate on a study due later this year that will dig deeper into the economic costs of climate change and co-benefits of action.

Failing to act on climate change is like ignoring that storm building on the horizon: Do nothing and you are putting lives and property—and in the case of climate change, no less than the world’s food and water security—at risk.


Rachel Kyte is Group Vice President and Special Envoy, Climate Change, The World Bank Group. She is the former head of sustainable development at The World Bank. Follow Rachel Kyte on Twitter: @rkyte365



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