In less than 80 days, world leaders will have the opportunity to strike a once-in-a-generation agreement in the fight against climate change. The United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris in December could mark a turning point in world history: unanimous recognition of the need to act to prevent the most harmful consequences of global warming.
But if a deal is to be secured, participants in the conference will have to overcome the mistrust that has led to polarization and inaction during past negotiations. Implementing an agreement with robust limits on greenhouse-gas emissions will first require honoring the commitments that have already been made, including promises by developed countries to spend US$100 billion a year by 2020 to help the developing world mitigate its contribution to climate change and adapt to a warming world.
Given the scale of the challenge and the costs that inaction imposes on the world’s most vulnerable people, development financial institutions and other interested parties must demonstrate their commitment to preventing the most harmful effects of climate change. Doing so requires a renewed – and transparent – dedication to the effort.
That is why the World Bank Group is examining what more can be done to help put economies on a sustainable path. Keeping a keen eye on the national plans being submitted ahead of the Paris summit, we are surveying the full spectrum of our work in order to find opportunities to help countries in the areas of energy, transport, agriculture, forests, urban management, and much more.
Indeed, the fight against climate change must be carried out across a wide variety of fronts. Rising global temperatures and an increasingly unstable climate will influence all aspects of development and jeopardize existing investments unless adequate mitigation and adaptation strategies – which are also central to the new Sustainable Development Goals that the United Nations adopted in September – are put in place.
Part of this effort to fight climate change must involve addressing sources of economic inefficiency, such as fossil-fuel subsidies and inadequate accounting of the cost of pollution. And there is a growing recognition that development funds and climate finance can be used to spur and catalyze investment from public and private sources.
But, above all, a successful climate deal will have to include proper measures for the management of the trillions of dollars that will need to be invested in low-carbon infrastructure and increased resilience to the harmful effects of rising global temperatures. This must be carried out in as public and transparent a fashion as possible. It is crucial that we ensure that financial flows being channeled into the fight against climate change can be tracked, so that citizens can hold their governments and institutions to account.
In order to accomplish this, the six large multilateral development banks and the International Development Finance Club – a network of national, regional, and international development institutions – have been painstakingly working on developing common principles for tracking climate finance. These principles should apply to all projects intended to help countries adapt to or mitigate the impact of climate change.
In a report released in June, the six banks described how they have provided more than $100 billion in climate finance in the four years since joint reporting began. The World Bank Group finances can also be tracked under its access to information policy.
The conference in Paris offers the opportunity to establish a clear path toward averting the most harmful effects of climate change; world leaders attending the meeting must not allow it to slip through their fingers. By credibly and transparently honoring their promises, rich countries can demonstrate their commitment to the effort and increase the likelihood of an effective agreement.
The time to invest in the fight against climate change is now. Our emissions are already having devastating effects around the world. As climate-related volatility and uncertainty mounts, the cost of inaction will only continue to rise.
World Bank Group’s Vice President and Special Envoy for Climate Change
Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2015