THE BLOG
01/24/2014 10:13 am ET Updated Mar 26, 2014

World Bank: "Governments Must Put a Price on Pollution"

The head of the World Bank has called on global leaders to throw down the gauntlet to climate change: "This is the year to take action. There are no excuses," said Jim Yong Kim from the sidelines of the World Economic Forum on Thursday.

His clarion call comes a few days after a WEF report revealed that failure to arrest, and adapt to global warming is one the greatest threats facing our planet today.

The annual gathering comes one week after the United Nations called for a 70 percent cut in international carbon emissions. Last September, the global body warned that our world may warm by up to 5 degrees Celsius by the end of this century.

Such a temperature rise would deliver a death blow to most life on earth.

The news comes two months after one of the most powerful storms in history struck the Philippines, killing over 5,000 people. Caused by warmer weather over the Pacific Ocean, typhoon Haiyan was over 40 kilometers wide and ratcheted speeds of up to 322 kilometers per hour.

It was the third super storm to strike the archipelago last year, coming 12 months after hurricane Sandy tore across the northeastern seaboard to leave much of New York City submerged under water.

Once regarded as black swans, such storms have become part of the new normal for life on a hotter planet.

In the words of Naradev Sano, the Philippines top climate negotiator:

"We must stop calling events like these natural disasters. It is not natural when science already tells us that global warming will induce more intense storms. It is not natural when the human species has already profoundly changed the climate."

Speaking before Congress last week, climate scientist Andrew Dessler described global warming as "a real and present danger."

So far, our planet has warmed by around 0.8 degrees Celsius. And, according to the UN, things are about to get much hotter, up to 6 times hotter.

That means that our children's children will be living in a world plagued by extreme heat waves, severe droughts and intense storms, testing the very limits of human survival. It's a brutal inheritance to hand down to our offspring.

According to James Hansen, NASA's former top climate scientist, handing over such a ruined planet is a grave moral failing on par with slavery.

Moreover, as carbon emissions remain trapped within the earth's atmosphere for years, even if we stopped all greenhouse gases tomorrow, our world is still destined for several decades of warming.

That's why the UN is calling for such a steep cut in CO2 output. As the world population veers towards the 9 billion mark, our global carbon footprint is expected to double, if not triple by 2050.

In order to meet our ever increasing energy needs, the UN says that investment in green technology needs to quadruple to 1 trillion dollars over the next 10 years.

That's half the money that global governments inject into the fossil fuel sector every year. If those subsidies were slashed and plowed into the green energy sector instead, we will have funded the start of our next energy revolution.

In the words of Jim Yong Kim: "This challenges the notion that responding to climate change is not affordable. Governments must put a price on pollution."

The alternative: tinkering around with something highly experimental called geoengineering.

This includes brightening the clouds so that they reflect more sunlight, building machines that suck up greenhouse gases, and filling the stratosphere with sulphate particles to block out the sun.

Perhaps, it's the last measure which has attracted the most controversy. Although it may have the ability to substantially cool the planet, its effects will be uneven, ushering in severe drought across much of the tropics. Not only will this affect billions of people, it will kill off the rainforests, the very lungs of our planet.

Such changes would raise the specter of war as some nations benefit from the new technology whilst others clearly suffer.

"The idea that we can put a different form of pollution into the atmosphere to cancel out the effects of global warming pollution is utterly insane," says Al Gore, former U.S. Vice President.

That means we need to tackle the problem head on. Earlier this week, Europe lead the charge as it laid down the world's most ambitious carbon targets to date. It says that it will slash emissions by 40 percent, and get nearly a third of its power from renewable sources by 2030.

And, although green groups have criticized the EU for not going far enough, it is currently out in pole position. It's time for other nations to follow suit. And, while disputes over who should bear the brunt of cuts will continue, each and every nation must step up to the plate. This is a global problem which requires a global solution.

And, while it all may seem rather daunting, in the highly fractured world that we live in today, our greatest problem has the power to unite us. In the words of David King, the UK's former top scientist: "We can do this. To defeat the axis powers, the allies developed the atom bomb. When threatened in the Cold War, the U.S. sent a man to the moon. When threatened by global warming, we surely need a similar effort to save the planet."

Something that engages our best minds, something that is international.

As Winston Churchill once said: "The empires of the future lie in the empires of our mind." It's time for us to strive towards that future, for as writer and activist Paul Gilding points out: "Like generations before us, we'll be growing up in war. Not a war between civilizations, but a war for civilization. It will take every mother, every father, and every child. But, this could be our finest hour."