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    Interview on Climate Change with Habiba Gitay

    May 19, 2008- Climate change is not just an environmental issue. It has severe socioeconomic implications, particularly for developing countries.

    Climate change has a direct impact on efforts to reduce poverty, and threatens the achievement of many of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).  Climate change is already increasing the frequency and intensity of severe weather events. Poor countries lack the human and financial resources necessary to respond adequately to these events. Diseases such as malaria are likely to have increasingly wider ranges, impacting even more people in the poorest regions of developing nations already most affected by such diseases. Changing rainfall patterns could devastate rain-fed agriculture on which so many people in developing countries depend on for their survival.

    Dev Outreach Climate Change cover

    Cover of the latest issue of Development Outreach magazine on Climate Change

    The latest issue of Development Outreach magazine examines how climate change has affected development and what actions are needed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (mitigation), and what can be done to adjust to ongoing and potential impacts of climate change (adaptation). 

    Articles in this issue cover such topics as:

    • the need for effective, equitable, and efficient global actions for climate change
    • lessons learned from cases in Africa, China and India
    • use of existing and new technologies to reduce greenhouse gases
    • the importance of sharing knowledge and best practices

    Habiba Gitay was invited to be the executive and technical editor of this latest issue on climate change. She is Senior Environmental Specialist at the World Bank Institute (WBI).  An Australian national with a PhD in Ecology from the University of Wales, Gitay has been involved with climate change since 1994.  Previously, she was the capacity building coordinator for the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, and was responsible for bringing young people, especially from developing countries, into international science and assessment.  She was also the Vice-Chair of the Scientific and Technical Advisory Panel (STAP) of the Global Environment Facility (GEF)

     Habiba Gitay

    Habiba Gitay    

    She came to WBI to design and implement a capacity development program on climate change adaptation.

    We interviewed Gitay to learn more about WBI’s climate change initiatives and to seek her perspectives on the goals of this work, and its progress to date.

    Q: What sparked your interest in climate change early on?

    I started getting involved in climate change at the international level by accident in the mid-1990s when I became part of a team writing a chapter for the  Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Assessment Report.   Due mostly to debates and discussions with colleagues and government officials, I became convinced by the evidence that was linking human activities to changes in the climate system including the occurrences and severity of events such as floods and droughts.  I was among the IPCC authors that highlighted the need for adaptation, especially in developing countries but also in other countries such as Australia. Living in Australia meant that droughts and floods were a part of life, but we knew these were hitting us more frequently.  With changes in the climate, water scarcity was going to be a permanent fixture in our lives and we had to adapt.  One action I took was to start converting our lawn into a garden that had drought tolerant native shrubs growing in mulched beds.  For people in many developing countries, the increased floods, droughts and storm surges means their lives become even more difficult and their development goals that much harder to reach.  One of the limiting factors for them is the lack of financial and human capacity to deal with the changed and rapidly changing world.

    Q: What was your motivation for joining WBI?

    I joined to be part of a team that is putting in place a program to enhance the capacity of our client countries to change policies and programs to improve their ability to cope with (or adapt to) the impacts of climate change and to better cope with the present climatic extremes.  This brings together my conviction that we need to pay more attention to adaptation and recognize the reality that capacity development is a necessary component.

    Q: What is the Bank doing on climate change?

    The Bank has started developing a Bank Group wide Strategic Framework on Climate Change and Development. This framework builds on the Bank’s ongoing climate change work.  Its goals include making action on adaptation and mitigation a core part of the Bank’s development work, speeding up the spread and deployment of climate friendly technologies and proposing innovative financial instruments such as grants, investment, public-private partnerships and market mechanisms to address the resources that are needed for incorporating climate change in development.  An additional goal focuses on knowledge, learning and capacity development both for Bank Group staff and clients, recognizing the need for such effort to both design and implement projects that would help address climate change in the short and long-term.

     climate change board in Bangladesh

    This billboard in Northwest Bangladesh, explains the causes of climate change, the impacts on communities and what can be done by citizens to adapt.  Photo: Leila Mead - IISD/ENB  


    Q: What do you think WBI brings to the topic of climate change that is unique?

    WBI not only brings critical global issues to the forefront of our work with clients, but we also hope that we are well placed to enhance the capacity of client countries and especially their institutions to be able to incorporate climate risk management in their policies and projects.  We can link our capacity development activities to the Bank’s operations and we can also work at the regional or global level to enhance the capacity in multiple countries. We also hope to start an adaptation market place for knowledge sharing on technologies (for example on agriculture and water) and encourage innovations for adaptation. One of the other opportunities that WBI offers is to develop products.  The Development Outreach issue on Climate Change is an example of such a product where we decided to cover both the need to move toward low carbon economies and to enhance the resiliency of societies. 

    Q: What do you hope are the short and long-term outcomes?

    In the short-term, we hope that our activities will improve the capacity of our clients and the multiple stakeholders in any country to cope with climatic extremes. In the long-term, we hope to assist in minimizing the risk of climate change to development and poverty alleviation goals.  It is clear that climate change has become a critical development issue for many countries and we have to live with the consequences for decades to come.  Hence, it is essential that the countries and communities adversely affected have the capacity and the finances to take action and also be able to contribute to minimizing the future changes and the subsequent impacts. 

    Contributed by Stefan Sittig

    Development Outreach on Climate Change available online  

    WBI’s Environment and Natural Resources Management website

    World Bank's Carbon Finance Assist Program

    World Bank's Climate Change website




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