World Banks warns of dire global food & water scarcity, major economic disruptions due to climate change

The World Bank issued a dire warning today that global warming will cause extensive water and food scarcity, result in the deaths and displacement of millions of people, and significantly disrupt economic growth in the coming decades if countries fail to take significant steps to reduce carbon emissions.

Read more: Transcript: World Bank President Jim Yong Kim warns climate change will cause “massive disruptions” to water, food supplies

The report, “Turn down the heat: Why a 4° C warmer world must be avoided,” outlined the potential environmental, economic, and human catastrophes that would occur if the Earth’s temperature rises by 4° C (or 39.2° Fahrenheit). Scientists have projected a 4° C temperature increase by the end of this century if greenhouse gas emissions continue on the current path.

“There would be massive disruptions in some of our most basic systems: water supply, the viability of coastal cities, entire populations that live in low-lying areas,” said World Bank President Jim Yong Kim. “It has implications for disaster risk management. It has implications for food supply. And most importantly for us, the worst impacts are going to happen in the poorest countries to the poorest people.”

He added, “I have a 3-year-old son, and when he’s my age, he could be living in a completely different world – one in which we don’t have enough food to feed our population, one in which cities are inundated with water.”


Although a 4° C temperature increase may not sound like much, the report pointed out that the temperature difference between now and the Ice Age – when “much of central Europe and northern United States were covered with kilometers of ice” – was between 4.5° C and 7° C cooler.

Read more: Commentary: Water & food shortages pose global security threat

The World Bank’s report highlighted the broad impact that climate change will have on the ocean and the weather, both of which affect farming (food), irrigation (water supplies), human health and settlements along coastal areas.

Scientists have blamed the accelerated melting of ice in Greenland and Antarctica, rising sea levels, spike in ocean acidity, and extreme weather patterns on climate change.

The report also suggested that the international community’s commitment to holding down global warming to 2° C may not be enough to avert “serious threats” to countries’ “development and, in some cases, survival.”

“We have to take action now. We know we can do it. And we know we can also look ahead to inspiring low-carbon future. We just have to work together to make it happen,” said Kim.

Summary of the key findings from the World Bank’s report: 

Extreme weather

As the Earth’s temperature increases, hotter and longer heat waves are expected to affect a large swath of the planet.

According to the World Bank, the average summer temperature is likely to increase by 6° C (or 42.8° F) in the Mediterranean, North Africa, Middle East, and the United States by 2100.

South America, Central Africa, and islands in the Pacific are “likely to regularly experience heat waves of unprecedented magnitude and duration,” the report noted.

In fact, the extreme heat wave that struck Russia in 2010, which killed 55,000 people, could become the new normal for many of these countries.

Region of the world spared by heat waves – such as parts North America, northern Europe, and Siberia – could see more flooding from severe storm events.

As a result, governments around the world will have to devote an ever-growing amount of money to repair or build infrastructures to deal with extreme natural disasters. This would mean less money devoted to economic development. The World Bank pointed out that poorer countries are most vulnerable to damages caused by climate change.

“No nation will be immune to the impacts of climate change. However, the distribution of impacts is likely to be inherently unequal and tilted against many of the world’s poorest regions, which will have the least economic, institutional, scientific, and technical capacity to cope and adapt,” warned the World Bank.

Food & water scarcity

The extreme weather patterns would create food and water scarcity.

Flooding, heat waves, droughts, and wild fires would kill crops and significantly lower the amount of food produced.

Drought and flooding would also decrease the drinkable fresh water supplies in many parts of the world, which would also impact farming. (Water supplies could be contaminated by floods that carry harmful chemicals, pathogens, and biological wastes. This would pose a significant public health problem.)

Given that feeding the world’s growing population will already be an immense challenge in the coming decades, any disruptions to food and water supplies could result in catastrophic famines, particularly in the poorer parts of the world.

Rising acidity of oceans

The rising level of carbon dioxide (CO2) and acidity in oceans will destroy coral reefs and potentially result in the collapse of fish and marine ecosystems. The latter would destroy the seafood industry, upon which millions of people around the world depend for their livelihood and food supplies.

The proverbial “canary in the coal mine” for the ocean would be coral reefs, which are particularly sensitive to rising ocean temperature, CO2, and acidity levels. If these coral reefs die out, so would the ecosystems for many marine species.In addition, coastal areas where people live would be more vulnerable to flooding and storm surges without the protection provided by the coral reefs, not to mention the negative impacts on local economies from the resulting losses in tourism and the marine industries.

Rising sea levels

A 4° C climb in temperature would raise sea levels by 0.5 to 1 meter by the end of the century.

The sea levels would likely be higher around the tropic areas because the “melting of the ice sheets will reduce the gravitational pull on the ocean toward the ice sheets and, as a consequence, ocean water will tend to gravitate toward the Equator,” according to the report. The countries that would be most impacted are: Mozambique, Madagascar, Mexico, Venezuela, Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Philippines, and Vietnam.

In addition to displacing millions of people who settle along coastal areas, rising sea levels pose a significant threat to fresh water supplies, particularly when salt water contaminates aquifers that store groundwater used for drinking and farming irrigation.

“A 4°C world will pose unprecedented challenges to humanity. It is clear that large regional as well as global scale damages and risks are very likely to occur well before this level of warming is reached,” the report concluded.


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