The World Bank's mission is to fight global poverty. But now the agency has decided that it can't carry out that mission without addressing global climate change.
"There are countries in Africa experiencing drought every two years as opposed to every five, or every 10 years," Rachel Kyte, the World Bank's vice president for sustainable development, told the National Journal. "If the economic impact of a crippling drought is 1, 2, or 3 percentage points of GDP lost in a year, and this is happening every two years, these countries are going backwards rather than forwards. Climate change is absolutely central to our understanding of how we can help these countries grow and prosper."
Paul Huttner, MPR News' chief meteorologist, joined Kerri Miller to talk about the World Bank's focus on climate — and about why this summer has been warmer in Alaska than in Minnesota. An edited transcript of their conversation:
Miller: There's news this week that the World Bank was making climate change one of its top priorities. At first blush you say, what's a financial institution doing getting in the middle of this? But they are greatly concerned about the effect of the changing climate on the economies of developing countries around the world.
Huttner: Follow the money. That's the mantra here. Climate change is increasingly viewed by organizations like the Defense Department, the CIA, as a national security implication because you're looking at potential for massive shifts in populations, increase in poverty. These are the kind of things that rising sea levels, extreme weather can drive. It doesn't surprise me that an organization like this would get involved in a more active way.
Miller: The real balancing act here is for those developing countries that are looking for new sources for energy and enough energy to sustain that development, to get out there and find greener energy when they're in the growing mode, when some of the traditional sources of energy are some of the most affordable at the moment.
Huttner: On top of that, talk about some of the changes that are occurring in some of these developing nations, and a lot of these nations are at or near sea level. You look at the poverty increase in the next 50-100 years and tie it to climate change. If we're looking at a 7.2 degree Fahrenheit rise, that's the prediction from the IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change], by 2100 in global temperatures, some of the projections that have come out of that are 80 percent of the cropland lost in Africa, big parts of Bangkok and Vietnam flooded. These can cause massive population migrations and essentially economic upheaval. That's the tapestry that we're looking at here as these changes begin to manifest themselves. Things like Sandy that caused chaos here in the United States might be the tip of the iceberg as we go forward.
Miller: You also sent me something that you've been blogging about this week — and that's what's happening with our temperatures this summer and you're comparing with a place that we traditionally think of as very, very cold.
Huttner: That's right. Alaska. You would think Alaska would be colder than Minnesota and it usually is in the summer. But not this year. Call it the Alaskan Riviera. Fairbanks, Alaska, which is cold, it's the interior of Alaska, is nine degrees warmer so far in August than International Falls, Minn., our own icebox. It's been remarkable in the number of 80 degree days. International Falls has had just 20 days of 80 degree days ... Fairbanks has had 36 days of 80 degrees or warmer. That's a record for them. Their average is 11. They've had 14 days above 85 — that's also a record. It could be this Arctic amplification that we've talked about before that's causing this.
Miller: This has something to do with the jet stream. We've talked about how volatile the jet stream has been over the last year — or is it longer than that?
Huttner: I think it's been brewing for a few years now, but I'll tell you what, the weather maps look different than when I started in this business 30 years ago. Meteorology 101: The jet stream tends to move these systems along and the weather map repeats itself about every two days in the mid-latitudes here [Minnesota, the Upper Midwest]. Well, that's slowed down and now these patterns are getting stuck. We're getting more persistent patterns. We've had this coolness here in Minnesota for a good chunk of the summer. They've been hot in Alaska in this kind of upside-down jet stream pattern. Because of the slower jet stream, it does not move as quickly, things get stuck, it's loopier, and cold air tends to dive a little farther south while the Arctic is much warmer. These are different patterns than we saw 20, 30 years ago.
Miller: I wonder if that makes it more difficult for forecasters, when the jet stream is that unpredictable.
Huttner: It does. And that's something I think a lot of us have been dealing with. The models want to move things along. Because the physics is based on those assumptions about the atmosphere that were used when the forecast models were created. The models keep saying the weather system is going to move. It doesn't. It stays stuck. So you're forecasting a change that never comes or is put off for a few more days. That's very common lately.
Miller: I got an email about our earlier conversation about the pine bark beetles in the Rocky Mountains because I've been there hiking for the last few weekends. A listener emailed to ask what the park's doing to try to mitigate the spread of the beetles. The park service has sprayed 5,000 high-value trees for shade and age. They've also been trying controlled burns in areas where the beetles are spreading, and there's research now going on about chemicals to try to stop the beetles from latching onto those trees.