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By Bruce Rich

Bank: Waiting for Real Leadership

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ast year the appointment of Jim Yong Kim by President Obama to be the new president of the World Bank aroused hope that finally the bank would have a leader committed to promoting environmentally friendly, pro-poor development not just in rhetoric, but in action. In contrast to the finance background of previous bank presidents, Kim is a physician and anthropologist who co-founded Partners in Health, the innovative non-profit that has worked to treat HIV and resistant strains of tuberculosis. In 2000 Kim co-edited a forceful indictment, “Dying for Growth,” of the disastrous impacts on public health of what he claimed were the neoliberal, pro-corporate economic globalization policies of the World Bank and other international financial institutions. Writing about his experiences in Peru in the 1990s, he lambasted the World Bank Group’s support for private-sector mining and oil production, declaring that its policies promoted “environmental laws shaped to encourage investments [that] have led to significant ecological degradation.” Kim has pledged to make fighting global warming a priority, and to strengthen the bank’s poverty alleviation mission. But his positions on recent lending controversies raise troubling questions about how real the changes are. In September 2012, in his first over20 | T H E E N V I R O N M E N T A L F O R U M

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seas visit on behalf of the bank, to South being the only cheap, plentifully availAfrica, he effusively praised the local able domestic fuel. Kim claimed that work of its private-sector finance arm, not building a coal plant would conthe International Finance Corporation, demn poor people in Kosovo to freeze but made no mention of the worse because of rich country ideologies. massacre of workers since the apartheid None other than the former reera at the IFC-supported South Af- newable energy czar at the bank from rica Markana platinum mine just three 2010 to 2011, University of Caliweeks before. The IFC had commit- fornia at Berkeley professor Daniel ted $200 million to finance Markana Kammen, has pointed out that simthorough the Lonmin corporation, the ply addressing Kosovo’s huge power world’s third-largest miner of platinum. losses from inefficiency — some 40 Lonmin promised an ambitious com- percent of the electricity generated munity development program, includ- — would be much more economical ing workforce training, opportunities than funding a new plant. Combined for women, and HIV education. with investments in renewable enThe South African Council of ergy, efficiency measures would also Church’s Benchmarks Foundation con- create more jobs. Indeed, 200 MW ducted site visits and reported on the of private sector wind projects were real conditions at Markana. Just two already waiting for approval from the days before the massacre, Benchmarks Kosovo government. released an update on the failure of The health impacts of the plant, “corporate social responsibility” at the even if it met EU standards, would mine, reporting “unacceptable” levels expose Kosovo’s inhabitants to polof fatal accidents and “appalling” hous- lution responsible (according to the ing conditions. Spills bank’s own country of sewage resulted in economic study) for The bank’s choices in chronic illnesses for the premature deaths children. of hundreds of people mining and energy Kim has praised the annually. Kammen have an Alice in IFC as a model for the warned the project Wonderland quality rest of the World Bank would leave “a devGroup, despite ongoastating legacy for a ing environmental and social conflicts young nation that we know can have a in IFC extractive projects not just in different path.” South Africa, but in Peru, Mongolia, A bank energy-lending “directions Colombia, and West Africa. He also paper” approved in July limits future lauded the bank’s $3 billion loan to lending for coal plants to poorer counSouth Africa in 2010 for the Medupi tries for supposedly rare instances where project, the fourth largest new coal there is no alternative. But the case of plant on earth, with annual greenhouse Kosovo shows that “no alternative” can emissions greater than over 100 of the have an Alice in Wonderland quality to world’s countries. He maintained that it — meaning, even in the face of con“there was a very strong sense that this trary evidence, exactly what bank manclean coal project was the way to go.” agement decides to say it means. The bank is planning to finance We are still waiting for real leadera new 600-megawatt lignite (brown ship from Mr. Kim. coal) power plant in Kosovo near the country’s capital, Pristina. Lignite is the Bruce Rich, an ELI Visiting Scholar, is an dirtiest of all fossil fuels, with higher attorney and author who has served as senior emissions of sulfur, heavy metals such counsel for major environmental organizations. as lead and mercury, as well as carbon, This column draws on his forthcoming book than conventional coal. Bank manage- “Foreclosing the Future: The World Bank and the ment asserts that there is no alternative Politics of Environmental Destruction” (Island to a new lignite plant, with brown coal Press). His email is brucemrich@gmail.com.


"Bank: Waiting for Real Leadership"