State of the World 2009 at a Glance

Key Facts and Innovations from State of the World 2009 

Emissions and Warming

  • According to the latest IPCC report, warming by 2100 is projected to be in the range of 1.1-6.4 degrees Celsius above the average in the 1980-99 period. Unabated, current increasing trends in emissions can be expected to raise Earth's temperature by 4-6 degrees Celsius above today's levels, if not more, by the end of this century. (pp. 13-14)
  • A recent assessment indicates that a significant number of "tipping points"-thresholds beyond which it would become difficult-to-impossible to reverse changes in the climate system-could be approached if the planet warms more than 3 degree Celsius over the preindustrial level. However, a number of tipping points-including loss of the Greenland ice sheet-could be approached at warming levels over 1.5-2 degrees Celsius. (p. 17)
  • The findings of the latest IPCC assessment and more-recent studies strongly reinforce the conclusion that "safe" levels of warming lie at 2 degrees Celsius or below. (p. 19)
  • Once greenhouse gas concentrations are stabilized, global mean temperature will continue to rise due to momentum in the climate system for several decades, but it will very likely also begin to stabilize after several decades. (p. 23)
  • Half of the carbon dioxide (CO2) emitted today is expected to remain in the atmosphere a century from now, and much will remain even 10,000 years in the future. (pp. 23-24)
  • Recent research has demonstrated that it is technically and economically feasible to reduce greenhouse gas emissions fast enough so that their atmospheric concentrations can be limited to around 400 parts per millon of CO2-equivalent, or to lower in the longer term. (p. 25)

Land Use

  • Land-use changes and fossil fuel burning are the two major sources of the increased CO2 in the atmosphere that is changing the global climate. Overall, land use and land-use changes account for some 31 percent of human-induced greenhouse gas emissions. (p. 31)
  • The process of tilling soil releases CO2 into the atmosphere. Worldwide, approximately 95 million hectares of cropland are under no-till management-a figure that is growing rapidly, particularly as rising fossil fuel prices increase the cost of tillage. (p. 36)
  • Perennial crops store more carbon in the soil than annually planted ones. Harvested native hay meadows retained 179 tons of carbon and 12.5 tons of nitrogen in a hectare of soil, while annual wheat fields retained only 127 tons of carbon and 9.6 tons of nitrogen. (p. 37)
  • Livestock now account for 50 percent of emissions from agriculture and land-use change. (p. 39)

Ice Melt and Water Availability

  • For sea ice, the IPCC projected a decrease in both the Arctic and Antarctic under every unmitigated emissions scenario, with Arctic summer sea ice disappearing almost entirely toward the end of this century. Observed rapid loss of Arctic summer ice (about 9.1 percent annually for the 1979-2006 period) exceeds projections in nearly all the latest IPCC models. (pp. 16-17)
  • By the 2050s, it is projected there will be less annual river runoff and water availability in dry regions in the mid-latitudes and tropics but more in high-latitude regions and in some tropical wet areas. (p. 16)
  • Serious water-supply impacts have been seen in Australia from the 2001-07 droughts-the most extreme and hottest drought period recorded for this continent. (p. 17)
  • The Gangotri glacier in the Himalayas, which provides up to 70 percent of the water in the Ganges River, is retreating 35 meters yearly. Once the glacier disappears, the Ganges will become a seasonal river, depriving 400 million people of water. (p. 32)

Energy

  • Buildings use about 40 percent of global energy and account for a comparable share of heat-trapping emissions. (p. 131)
  • Today's electricity generation accounts for 41 percent of global primary energy use (from coal mining to appliances or other "end uses") and 44 percent of CO2 emissions. (p. 135)
  • Renewables-including large hydro-provide nearly one-fifth of world electricity. (p. 135)
  • Heating and cooling account for 40-50 percent of global energy demand. Renewables are among the lowest cost options for reducing CO2 emissions and fossil fuel dependency, yet they currently meet only 2-3 percent of world demand. (pp. 139, 141)
  • Approximately two-thirds of the energy fed into the world's power plants is wasted-released into the environment as heat. (p. 142)

STATE OF THE WORLD 2009: Select Innovations

Land Use

  • In Parana, Brazil, farmers have developed organic management systems combined with no-till. No-till plots yielded a third more wheat and soybean than conventional plowed plots and reduced soil erosion by up to 90 percent. (p. 36)
  • In 2005, a Pennsylvania dairy farm invested $1.14 million in a project to process the manure from 800 cows, using a digester and a combined heat and power unit. Now the farm makes a profit using biogas to generate 120 kilowatt-hours of electricity to sell back to the local utility. (p. 41)
  • Both India and China have large national programs to revegetate millions of hectares of forest and grasslands-seen as investments to reduce poverty and protect watersheds. (p. 44)
  • In Morocco, 34 pastoral cooperatives with more than 8,000 members rehabilitated and manage some 450,000 hectares of grazing reserves. (p. 44)
  • In Rajasthan, India, community-led watershed restoration programs have reinstated more than 5,000 traditional johads (rainwater storage tanks) in over 1,000 villages. (p. 44)
  • Some countries are redirecting subsidy payments to agri-environmental payments for ecosystem services, some of which explicitly include carbon storage and emissions reduction. (p. 46)

Energy

  • 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. (p. 130)
  • Integrated building design with multiple efficiency measures can reduce energy use to at least half of a conventional building, achieving gains of over 80 percent in some cases. (p. 132)
  • The Combined Power Plant, a project that links 36 wind, solar, biomass, and hydropower installations throughout Germany, has demonstrated that a combination of renewable energy sources and more-effective control can balance out short-term fluctuations and provide reliable electricity with 100-percent renewable sources. (p. 139)
  • Between 1980 and 2005, taxes on energy and CO2 in Sweden drove a major shift from fossil fuels to biomass for district heating, reducing associated emissions to less than a third. (pp. 139-40)
  • Already, more than 40 nations, states, and provinces have enacted feed-in laws, which generally guarantee anyone who produces electricity with renewable sources priority access to the electricity grid and long-term premium payments for their electricity. (p. 186)
  • According to the German government, the country's feed-in law avoided some 79 million tons of CO2 emissions in 2007, while emissions trading that year reduced national emissions by some 9 million tons. The feed-in law is considered Germany's primary climate-protection policy. (p. 149)
  • Algeria plans to build a 3,000-kilometer cable to Germany, allowing it to export 6,000 megawatts of solar thermal power by 2020 and providing perfect complement to Germany's significant wind energy capacity. (p. 111)

Building Resilience

  • The city of Manizales, Colombia, has taken steps to build resilience, particularly by not letting its rapidly growing low-income population settle on dangerous sites. (p. 161)
  • Farmers in Njoro Division, Kenya, are adapting to climate change in several ways, including switching from wheat and potatoes to quick-maturing crops such as beans and maize, and planting whenever it rains because there is no longer a clear growing season. (p. 151)
  • Villages in Nepal are building resistance and resilience to climate change by improving access to resources and assets via small livestock distribution, vegetable farm demonstrations, kitchen and organic farming, as well as sloping agricultural land technologies. (p. 154)
  • In northeast Tanzania, local farmers use very specific indicators to predict the beginning of the rains, including increases in temperature, lightning, various plant changes, and changing behavioral patterns of birds, insects, and mammals. (p. 158)
  • Mali's government has been providing climate-related information directly to farmers to help them measure climate variables. (p. 159)

For more information, visit our State of the World 2009 resources page.