The need for environmental leadership


Several articles and reports were published this week about the enormous challenges that we are facing on our small planet and the need for environmental leadership. It is too much to digest in one weekend, especially the more than 300 pages of the third ‘Turn Down The Heat’ report of the World Bank. Here are some analyses and statistics that you don’t want to miss.


A catastrophic high-intensity wildfire in the exclusion zone surrounding Chernobyl’s ruined nuclear power plant could release clouds of radioactive particles that could send radioactivity as far as Britain. The Guardian reports on the urgent call from a consortium of Ukrainian and international scientists for a $13.5m program to manage Chernobyl’s forests safely.drought needs environmental leadership

CBS Evening News reports on the world’s biggest water-diversion project in China. Some 27,000 rivers have disappeared in China due to industrialization, dams, and drought. China’s government is planning to spend $80 billion to build nearly 2,700 miles of waterways — almost enough to stretch from New York to Los Angeles.

A report of The Royal Society says governments have not grasped the risk of booming populations in coastal cities as sea-level rise and extreme events become more severe. The BBC quotes the lead author Prof Georgina Mace on the combined factors of climate change and population growth: “We can’t avoid the worst and most unexpected events. But it is not impossible to be prepared for an ever-changing world. We must organize ourselves right away.”

Turn Down the Heat

The best, and also the most alarming, of this week’s reading on the state of our planet is the new “Turn Down the Heat” report. It is subtitled “Confronting the New Climate Normal.” The report is the third in a series commissioned by the World Bank Group from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Climate Analytics. Its value lies in presenting an overall picture of what we know about climate change and the impact that it will have. It offers some research that you may already have read (like the locked-in extra 0.6°C or the studies on the impact of extreme weather on the Arab Spring), but it does so in a consistent and readable manner. Combined with a lot of new information on the state of our planet, this report should give all of us sleepless nights and convince us of the need for urgent measures. A few examples from the foreword of the President of the World Bank Group, Jim Yong Kim:

In Brazil, at 2°C warming, crop yields could decrease by up to 70 percent for soybean and up to 50 percent for wheat. In the Middle East and North Africa, crop yields could drop by up to 30 percent at 1.5–2°C and by almost 60 percent at 3–4°C. At the same time, migration and climate-related pressure on resources might increase the risk of conflict. In Macedonia, yield losses are projected up to 50 percent for maize, wheat, vegetables, and grapes at 2°C warming. In northern Russia, forest dieback and thawing of permafrost threaten to amplify global warming. Stored carbon and methane are released into the atmosphere, giving rise to a self-amplifying feedback loop.

The need for leadership

Dr. Kim concludes that many of the worst projected climate impacts outlined in this latest report could still be avoided by holding warming below 2°C. But, this will require substantial technological, economic, institutional, and behavioral change. It will require leadership at every level of society. More and more voices are arguing that it is possible to grow greener without necessarily growing slower. Today, we know that we need urgent action on climate change; and it does not have to come at the expense of economic growth. We need smart policy choices that stimulate a shift to clean public transport and energy efficiency.

The report starts with a 20-page executive summary. I have mainly been reading in the Middle East and North Africa chapters, like the research done on the relationship between climate change and security. All publications that I read this weekend are a reminder of the need for better environmental leadership in the world.