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World Bank Chief Targets Climate Change

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World Bank Chief Targets Climate Change


World Bank Chief Targets Climate Change

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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World financial leaders wrap up four days of meetings of the International Monetary Fund in the World Bank here in Washington today.

The annual meetings are the first for the World Bank's new president, Robert Zoellick. He's been working to rebuild morale at the bank, and he also wants to set an agenda for its future.

As NPR's Kathleen Schalch reports, one key goal is a new focus on climate change.

KATHLEEN SCHALCH: Robert Zoellick talks about climate change in detail practically every chance he gets. This weekend was no exception. Zoellick frets about China's coal-fired power plants.

Mr. ROBERT ZOELLICK (President, World Bank): In 2005, China was on average building a new coal-fired electricity-generating plant every other day.

SCHALCH: He speaks of technology that might help by capturing carbon dioxide from power plants and storing it underground.

Mr. ZOELLICK: I hope there's a role for the bank in being able to get fast adoption of that.

SCHALCH: He says that the bank should help rich countries pay poor countries to cut greenhouse gas emissions and that it must do more to prepare developing countries for the disproportionate impact climate change will have on them.

Under Zoellick's predecessor, Paul Wolfowitz, there wasn't a lot of talk about climate change, even the words fell out of favor. Officials substituted phrases like clean energy instead.

Ms. LAURA TUCKER (World Bank): I think you've seen a sea change this past year in the bank. This has become possibly one of the top priorities here in the institution.

SCHALCH: Laura Tucker directs the bank's sustainable development program for Latin America and the Caribbean. It's one of many regions where development experts fear climate change could undo decades of efforts to fight poverty. She points to Peru, which depends on melting glaciers for water and hydroelectric power in the winter.

Ms. TUCKER: It could be over the next generation - 25 to 40 years - till they're gone.

SCHALCH: The bank is using new advanced mapping and modeling techniques to help the country understand what's coming and how to prepare.

David Wheeler of the Center for Global Development says the bank is also grappling with new scientific findings on how climate change will affect poor farmers and food supplies.

Dr. DAVID WHEELER (Center for Global Development): Losses in agricultural productivity during the next 70 or 80 years in major regions of the developing world will be enormous - possibly as high as 50 or 60 percent in some regions.

SCHALCH: The bank is now revamping its programs, factoring climate change into practically everything, from seed research and irrigation to city planning and road building. In the past year, its spending on renewable energy and energy efficiency has jumped 67 percent. This month it launched a new fund that will pay poor people not to cut down trees.

Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the United Nations Convention on Climate Change, says this will be crucial.

Mr. YVO DE BOER (United Nations Convention on Climate Change): Cutting down trees, deforestation actually accounts for about 20 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions we human beings are responsible for.

SCHALCH: There is only so much even the World Bank can do, de Boer says. The developing world is hungry for power. People want cars and appliances.

Mr. DE BOER: Basically, the challenge is, one, to ensure the developing countries don't follow the development path of the West, but basically immediately leapfrog to clean technologies.

SCHALCH: Of course the bank can't begin to put together the trillions of dollars that would take. But if nations agree to make that kind of investment, Robert Zoellick says the World Bank is ready to help.

Kathleen Schalch, NPR News, Washington.

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