The World Bank: Financing the Future or Living in the Past?

The World Bank president of eight months, Jim Yong Kim, has a lot to say about climate change. Most recently he addressed the G20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors’ meeting, declaring that “no country- rich or poor – is immune from the impacts of climate-related disasters…. At the World Bank Group we are stepping up our mitigation, adaptation and disaster risk management work.” He argued that climate change needs to be addressed by finance ministers and bank governors, that the economic consequences of climate change pose enormous risks to both developed and developing countries.

Kosovo is currently a battleground over a new coal-fired power plant. (picture courtesy jonworth-eu via flickr)

Kosovo is currently a battleground over a new coal-fired power plant. (picture courtesy jonworth-eu via flickr)

Kim has been vocal about his desires to address climate change in World Bank funded projects. As World Bank president he is responsible for development projects that aid the world’s poorest, who also happen to be those most vulnerable to climate change, so Kim’s emphasis is appropriate. He calls for the world’s political and economic elite to provide leadership in the battle against climate change, placing the burden on those most responsible for it in order to ensure a healthy future for the next generation.

The World Bank funds a variety of projects to mitigate and adapt to the changing climate, ranging from light bulb efficiency to solar power to safety nets in response to extreme weather events. They also provide extensive data and analysis on climate change, which can help policy makers develop and implement projects and policies that address climate change, or account for climate change in their development strategies. This includes the Bank’s recent Turn Down the Heat, Why a 4°C Warmer World Must Be Avoided –a bold report that draws clear attention to the reality that humanity is currently heading toward a 4 degree Celsius future, one where we will most likely lose control of our destiny, instead forced simply to react to disaster after disaster.

While Kim’s climate change rhetoric is hopeful and important, it may be diverting attention from other World Bank projects, ones that aren’t so concerned with climate change. In an interview during the World Economic Forum in Davos, which can be viewed below, Kim outlines three major ways to mitigate climate change, which he hopes to accomplish in his tenure – setting the correct price and developing a global carbon market; removing fossil fuel subsides; and developing green planning strategies for mega-cities. These are three enormous goals, and are certainly easier said than done, which may be a general problem of Kim’s rhetoric. In that same interview Kim explains that he hasn’t signed off on any coal-fired power plants, and hopes to avoid doing so in the future, acknowledging that energy development needs to be focused on more sustainable processes. However, when pressed, he admits that his job is to help lift people out of poverty, and energy is an important step in that process, and that “[his] first priority is helping countries have the energy they need.”

Indeed, the World Bank is currently pushing forward with plans to open a coal-fired power plant in Kosovo, against local opposition. Besides the obvious issue of emissions, the plan will draw water from a system that is already stressed, which may lead to even more water limitations in a country currently facing shortages. Additionally, the plant would endanger Kosovo’s entrance into the European Union, as it would make it difficult for the state to implement EU energy and environmental legislation. While Kim was not at the helm when this project began, he is at the helm now, and could have some influence in stopping it.

He could also have some influence in determining not to fund the Oyu Tolgoi copper and gold mine in Mongolia. While not a coal-fired power plant, the giant mine will surely complicate water access and cause problems for nomadic herders. And, the mining project stipulates that it will be powered by a new coal-fired plant. In fact, the World Bank currently supports 29 coal plants, financed with $5.3 billion. Of course, as Kim only took over in July of 2012, he is not to be blamed for that. However, for someone who says, “If you really care about the children, you’ve got to care about the climate,” Kim has yet to prove he cares about future generations. We can only hope that his actions will soon reflect his words.

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