State of the World 2009: Into a Warming World

The Worldwatch Institute in January released its flagship annual report State of the World 2009: Into a Warming World, an in-depth analysis of issues related to climate change.

Into a Warming World warns that the earth’s climate is changing rapidly as a result of human activity, and that decisive action must be taken immediately before the impact of climate change becomes impossible to reverse.
The world will have to reduce greenhouse gas emissions more drastically than has been widely predicted—essentially ending the emission of carbon dioxide by 2050—in order to avoid climate catastrophe. In addition to eliminating greenhouse gas emissions, the world must also prepare to adapt to climate change.
Into a Warming World outlines 10 key challenges that must be adopted as part of any successful climate change strategy, including long-term thinking, global cooperation, technological innovations and lifestyle changes.
It also provides examples of steps some governments are taking to help their populations adapt to climate change. Güssing, Austria, has become energy self-sufficient, increasing living standards and reducing carbon emissions more than 90 percent since 1992 by shifting to local, renewable energy.
In Parana, Brazil, farmers have developed organic management systems combined with no-till plots, yielding a third more wheat and soybean than conventional plowed plots and reducing soil erosion by up to 90 percent. And in Mali, the government has been providing climate-related information directly to farmers to help them measure climate variables.
The city: a key player in climate change adaptation
In addition to government policies, cities—which are especially vulnerable to climate change due to the large concentration of populations and their role as national economic hubs—can be key players in adapting to climate change, the report suggests.
For example, local officials can promote and encourage particular activities by individuals and private companies. The development of pro-poor strategies can help urban residents develop sustainable and resilient livelihoods, thus strengthening the city’s economic base and making it easier to withstand the stresses that result from climate change.
On a direct level, municipal authorities responsible for land use planning can ensure that low-income groups do not settle on a site that is vulnerable to climate change. Officials responsible for enforcing building codes can make sure that the structures take climate change risks into consideration in a way that is affordable for low-income residents. 
Two examples are provided of cities that have undertaken activities to render them more resilient to climate change. In South Africa, the city of Durban initiated a Climate Protection Programme in 2004 and has incorporated climate change into long-term city planning. Manzinales, Colombia has built housing for low-income residents so that they do not settle on dangerous sites, reducing the number of households in high-risk zones by 63 percent.
Despite such successes, many bilateral aid agencies and multilateral development banks do not recognize the importance of local authorities to climate change adaptation, the report notes. As a result, the organisations fail to provide adequate support to increase local competence and willingness to act.
Into a Warming World is the 26th edition of Worldwatch’s State of the World series. It brought together a diverse group of more than 40 authors; more than a dozen of them are natives of or have roots in developing countries, which are most vulnerable to climate change.
The Worldwatch Institute is an independent research organisation based in Washington, DC.
For more about State of the World 2009: Into a Warming World, including the full text, please visit the Worldwatch website.
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