Kate Mackenzie The World Bank’s double-bind on climate change

The World Bank’s Development Report 2010 says that wealthy countries must help the developing world shift to a low-carbon development path. Both technical and financial assistance should be provided, the organisation says.

The World Bank’s president, Robert Zoellick, says that climate change will affect developing countries worst, even though it’s “a crisis not of their making”. This, he says, makes an equitable agreement at Copenhagen more vital. These are strong words on what is turning out to be the most sensitive negotiating points ahead of the meeting.

The report itself is adamant that in addition to providing support to the developing world, developed countries have to do their bit to reduce their own emissions, too. From the summary:

It has to start with high-income countries taking aggressive action to reduce their own emissions. That would free some “pollution space” for developing countries, but more importantly, it would stimulate innovation and the demand for new technologies so they can be rapidly scaled up. It would also help create a sufficiently large and stable carbon market. Both these effects are critical to enable developing countries to move to a lower carbon trajectory while rapidly gaining access to the energy services needed for development, although they will need to be supplemented with financial support.

Although it says climate change “cannot be framed as a choice between growth and climate change”, because the costs of climate change will outweigh the costs of avoiding it, the World Bank still has problems aligning its mandate to promote development with the bigger upfront costs of switching to clean energy. As The Times points out, the Bank is continuing to fund new coal plants in several developing countries, much to the chagrin of environmental groups.

The World Bank explained it to The Times this way:

Marianne Fay, the bank’s chief economist for sustainable development, said that coal was the cheapest and most secure way to deliver electricity to the 1.6billion people without it. She said: “There are a lot of poor countries which have coal reserves and for them it’s the only option. The [bank’s] policy is to continue funding coal to the extent that there is no alternative and to push for the most efficient coal plants possible. Frankly, it would be immoral at this stage to say, ‘We want to have clean hands, therefore we are not going to touch coal’.”

Related links:

Moral arguments build, ahead of Copenhagen (FT Energy Source, 03/09/09)
Developed countries’ climate change efforts are coming in for criticism (FT Energy Source, 23/07/09)