What warming? Climate change slips down global priorities

October 14th, 2008 - 9:13 am ICT by IANS  

Washington, Oct 14 (DPA) You might call it the fourth crisis. While collapsing financial institutions plunge wealthy nations into recession and developing countries grapple with surging food and energy costs, the once urgent need to fight global warming seems to have taken a back seat.Just last year, nearly every global and regional summit put climate change at the top of its agenda. Now it seems to have become an afterthought.

Gathered for the annual meetings of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, the world’s finance ministers promised over the weekend in Washington to do everything they could to stabilise financial markets.

IMF Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn warned wealthy nations not to forget about “the other crisis”.

About 100 million people have been plunged back into poverty because of higher food and petrol prices, which have prompted riots in dozens of countries over the last year.

All this leaves the issue of climate change out in the cold.

World Bank president Robert Zoellick acknowledged there was a “risk of distraction” and wryly noted that the current global credit crunch might have been averted if people heeded the financial clouds on the horizon only a few years ago.

“One of the lessons of today’s crisis is that you have to get ahead of these things,” Zoellick told reporters.

“There’s no doubt that climate change is a problem today and will be a problem tomorrow.”

The financial crisis, which began with the bursting of the bubble in US housing prices, has spread to all corners of the globe and is already having an impact on the climate sector, too.

Private investors, suddenly fearful of all risky investments, are now pulling out of climate and energy projects in the developing world.

“International sources of financing for emerging markets has definitely decreased,” said Rashad Kaldany, vice president of infrastructure for the International Finance Corporation, the World Bank’s private investment arm.

Interest from the world’s commercial banking giants - some of which are dealing with a chronic lack of capital from exposure to crumbling US mortgage securities - has “decreased very substantially” in recent weeks, Kaldany said.

Just how much and for how long the financing will dry up is anybody’s guess. The impact on clean energy and climate projects is as uncertain as everything else in the current financial crisis.

Meanwhile, the World Bank hopes that two new climate funds might help bridge the gap.

The bank’s policy-setting Development Committee Sunday formally endorsed the Climate Investment Funds, which officials hope can help poorer countries invest in clean technologies and build up their defences against climate change.

Mexican Finance Minister Agustin Calleri, who chairs the committee, said that ministers still acknowledged the “sense of urgency” in halting global warming and addressing some of its already visible effects.

The World Bank’s funds have collected about $6.1 billion in pledges from governments so far. The bank also boosted its own budget for clean energy projects by more than 80 percent.

Even with public funding, Kaldany said it is only “realistic” that some initiatives would be cut in the coming months. There simply isn’t as much money available from the private sector, which the World Bank estimates will have to bankroll about 86 percent of all clean energy and climate projects in future.

Yet the dangers of global warming have, if anything, become more urgent since last year, when climate change was the world’s top concern.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned in a series of reports last year that governments have until 2015 to begin reversing the trend of rising greenhouse gas emissions to avert the worst consequences of global warming.

“Climate change isn’t going to wait for the financial crisis to get resolved,” said J. Warren Evans, director of the World Bank’s environment department. “We need to step up and increase our efforts to help on adaptation, not slow it down.”

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