The question the World Bank asked itself was ambitious: how to get energy to millions of people that need it, while sustaining economic growth and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. On 23 April, in Washington, the bank revealed some of its answers. But were its conclusions good for the environment and the money-poor? And is the World Bank the best vehicle to provide solutions to the double whammy of energy and climate crises faced by developing countries?
The bank’s conclusions start from the assumption that the world will be reliant on fossil fuels for the next 20-30 years. Its solutions include a mix of energy efficiency, carbon capture and storage, dams, wind and solar power. These would be financed from new funds to cover up-front costs and future income flowing from carbon trading. The response from environmental and social justice activists was decidedly frosty, with accusations that the bank was merely reinforcing the status quo.
On the face of it, the bank is careful to put emphasis on energy efficiency and wind and solar energy, with an increase in funds of 20 per cent per year for renewables. So why the coolness from activists? Daphne Wysham, of the US-based Institute for Policy Studies, suggests we read between the lines: ‘What they spend on renewables is so low already that 20 per cent may sound significant. But when you realise that the bank is throwing billions at fossil fuel projects and mere millions at renewables, then you get some perspective.’
Can the World Bank overcome the antipathy? Professor Michael Dorsey, of the Environmental Studies Programme at Dartmouth University in the US, sees hope for the bank, but only if it can transform itself into a micro-lender targeting small loans with low interest rates at the most vulnerable groups. ‘Right now, since the level of response needed to climate change is obviously global and there is no other institution with the capacity to do this, the World Bank could be best placed to play a role,’ ventures Dorsey.
But although it’s true that the World Bank is in a unique global position, its failure to make significant advances towards eliminating poverty should make us nervous. Dorsey agrees: ‘The bank itself tells you that two thirds of its projects don’t work and a third to half are abject failures. With a track record like that you need to come up with a strategy for success or close the doors.’ Dorsey describes a process where the bank sets a definitive entry and exit strategy, ensuring that investment in renewables is not capital intensive – something that isn’t part of their current practices.
Many activists, however, believe that the bank is rife with inherent contradictions that prevent it from playing a positive role in developing renewable energies. The long-time World Bank activist, Professor Patrick Bond, based in the Centre for Civil Society in South Africa, says: ‘With the leading organic intellectual of the petro-military complex, Paul Wolfowitz, as bank president, there is no hope whatsoever for reforming the institution’s energy policy.’ Daphne Wysham also agrees that there are fundamental problems within the power structures of the bank. ‘They are a bank first and foremost and answerable to their largest investors: the G7 countries. So the result is like the man behind the curtain in the Wizard of Oz, all whizz and bang out front but the same old hands pulling the strings.’
So what is the future for investment in renewable energy? Patrick Bond sees a fundamental problem in World Bank financing: ‘The interest on a World Bank loan soars when a third world currency declines. If the World Bank were not holding the reigns on most third world states’ monetary policy, more local fiscal resources could be used for renewables … The only serious strategy for progressives to pursue is the defunding and delegitimation of the Bank.’
In fact this is not such a radical suggestion. The bank’s own consultants reviewed its investments in fossil fuels and recommended funding cease for such projects by 2008 because they harmed the poor. The report, the Extractive Industries Review, was subsequently shelved by the bank.
Daphne Wysham sees this as a huge mistake. ‘The bank needs to immediately get out of fossil fuels,’ she argues. According to Wysham’s research, the World Bank’s oil, gas and coal projects financed since 1992 will release over 43 billion tons of carbon dioxide in their lifetimes. Perhaps the bank should take its own advice and stop being part of the problem.
Yasmin Gunaratnam reflects on John Berger’s gut solidarity with the stranger
Charlie Clarke and Heather Mendick discuss how to work through the tensions within Momentum
Photos from The World Transformed festival in Liverpool, by David Walters
A short story by Kirsten Irving
Nadhira Halim and Andy Edwards report on the range of creative responses to the housing crisis that are providing secure, affordable housing across the UK
As man-made global warming gets closer to the tipping point, Andrew Simms finds reasons to be positive about averting catastrophic climate change
In this extract from his new book The Candidate, Alex Nunns tells the inside story of how Jeremy Corbyn scraped onto the Labour leadership ballot in 2015
Graham Jones proposes a framework for a diverse movement to flourish
Bryony Moore profiles Stitched Up, a non-profit group reimagining the future of fashion
Musician Eliane Correa reflects on the fading revolution
Utopia: Work less play more
A shorter working week would benefit everyone, writes Madeleine Ellis-Petersen
Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
Anne Harris reports on one woman’s fight against a multinational coal giant
Bike courier Maggie Dewhurst takes on the gig economy… and wins
We spoke to Mags about why she’s ‘biting the hand that feeds her’
Utopia: Daring to dream
Imagining a better world is the first step towards creating one. Ruth Potts introduces our special utopian issue
A better Brexit
The left should not tail-end the establishment Bremoaners, argues Michael Calderbank
News from movements around the world
Compiled by James O’Nions
Podemos: In the Name of the People
'The emergence as a potential party of government is testament both to the richness of Spanish radical culture and the inventiveness of activists such as Errejón' - Jacob Mukherjee reviews Errejón and Mouffe's latest release
Survival Shake! – creative ways to resist the system
Social justice campaigner Sakina Sheikh describes a project to embolden young people through the arts
‘We don’t want to be an afterthought’: inside Momentum Kids
If Momentum is going to meet the challenge of being fully inclusive, a space must be provided for parents, mothers, carers, grandparents and children, write Jessie Hoskin and Natasha Josette
The Kurdish revolution – a report from Rojava
Peter Loo is supporting revolutionary social change in Northern Syria.
How to make your own media
Lorna Stephenson and Adam Cantwell-Corn on running a local media co-op
Book Review: The EU: an Obituary
Tim Holmes takes a look at John Gillingham's polemical history of the EU
Book Review: The End of Jewish Modernity
Author Daniel Lazar reviews Enzo Traverso's The End of Jewish Modernity
Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants
Ida-Sofie Picard introduces Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants – as told to Jenny Nelson
Book review: Angry White People: Coming Face to Face With the British Far-Right
Hilary Aked gets close up with the British far right in Hsiao-Hung Pai's latest release
University should not be a debt factory
Sheldon Ridley spoke to students taking part in their first national demonstration.
Book Review: The Day the Music Died – a Memoir
Sheila Rowbotham reviews the memoirs of BBC director and producer, Tony Garnett.
Power Games: A Political History
Malcolm Maclean reviews Jules Boykoff's Power Games: A Political History
Book Review: Sex, Needs and Queer Culture: from liberation to the post-gay
Aiming to re-evaluate the radicalism and efficacy of queer counterculture and rebellion - April Park takes us through David Alderson's new work.
A book review every day until Christmas at Red Pepper
Red Pepper will be publishing a new book review each day until Christmas
Book Review: Corbyn: The Strange Rebirth of Radical Politics
'In spite of the odds Corbyn is still standing' - Alex Doherty reviews Seymour's analysis of the rise of Corbyn
From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation
'A small manifesto for black liberation through socialist revolution' - Graham Campbell reviews Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor's 'From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation'
The abolition of Art History A-Level will exacerbate social inequality
This is a massive blow to the rights of ordinary kids to have the same opportunities as their more privileged peers. Danielle Child reports.
Mass civil disobedience in Sudan
A three-day general strike has brought Sudan to a stand still as people mobilise against the government and inequality. Jenny Nelson writes.
Mustang film review: Three fingers to Erdogan
Laura Nicholson reviews Mustang, Deniz Gamze Erguven’s unashamedly feminist film critique of Turkey’s creeping conservatism
What if the workers were in control?
Hilary Wainwright reflects on an attempt by British workers to produce a democratically determined alternative plan for their industry
Airport expansion is a racist policy
Climate change is a colonial crisis, writes Jo Ram
Momentum Kids: the parental is political
Momentum Kids is not about indoctrinating children, but rather the more radical idea that children have an important role to play in shaping the future, writes Kristen Hope
New Cross fights new wave of housing privatisation
Lewisham residents object to a new trend in local authority housing developments
Stand-off with prison profiteers at the Tower of London
Marienna Pope-Weidemann reports on disruption at the European Custody and Detention Summit