This is big.

A new report released by the World Bank  describes a world I could live to witness if we continue with our current rate of polluting the atmosphere.

It sounds like a Hollywood disaster movie — except that it is real.

Remember the Russian heat wave in 2010 with massive forest fires? The one that burned more than one million hectares and killed about 55,000 people? The World Bank report says:

”Recent extreme heat waves such as in Russia  in 2010 are likely to become the new normal summer in a 4°C world.”

Killer droughts and floods; inundation of coastal cities; more powerful tropical cyclones; increasing water scarcity and challenges to food production. Oceans are becoming more acidic faster than ever before in the Earth’s history, Arctic summer sea ice may soon be gone and masses of species lost forever. And the list goes on.

It’s no wonder. After all, we are talking about a temperature change of 4°C that almost compares to the difference between today and the last ice age happening during one person’s lifetime compared to millenia. A warming of 4°C could occur as early as the 2060s. And that’s what this is really about. The changes are so huge and interlinked that it’s impossible to predict their full effects. We’ve never been there before. According to the report:

“(...) there is also no certainty that adaptation to a 4°C world is possible.”

So we’d better not go there. And that’s what makes this World Bank report so important. The main message of the report is that the game is not over yet. We can still choose our path. The report says:

”But with action, a 4°C world can be avoided and we can likely hold warming below 2°C.”

This brings me to the title of this blog. This is really about the decisions that will be made in the next 5-10 years by all levels of society, in all corners of the world. This is the true time-window we have to change the dangerous course we’re on because today’s decisions, especially on infrastructure, resource extraction and policies, will have long-term consequences.

“This really is the last call, this decade.” (Will Steffen, Australian National University, at the Planet Under Pressure conference)

So don’t be fooled by talk about educating our children to be better decision makers, consumers and citizens. That’s important, but won’t solve this problem. We are deciding their future for them – whether we like it of not. It is today’s political and business leaders we need to educate and put pressure on. Take the World Bank for example. We need to make sure that the Bank itself finally ends its hypocrisy of warning about climate change, while continuing to fuel fossil-fuel addiction.

So no more coal scandals like Medupi. No more coal financing in Kosovo or any other country. The bank must shift 100% of its energy portfolio to renewables and energy efficiency, the solutions that will truly help the poor, full stop.

But it’s also a challenge for all of us individuals as workers, housebuilders, parents, voters, consumers, activists etc. The role of civil society, you and me, is to make the change desirable, possible and inevitable, through our own action.

It’s a big challenge, no doubt about it, but we have the technology, money and creativity to solve it in time. We just need to be much much faster and smarter than before.

Let’s take the report as a warning, but let’s not allow it to become a prophecy.

Kaisa Kosonen

P.S. Have you become an Arctic defender yet? That’s one of our campaigns where we are really drawing the line, and already have more than 2 million people with us.

Kaisa Kosonen is a political advisor with Greenpeace International