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Climate isn't part of World Bank equation

August 12, 2007|Judy Pasternak | Times Staff Writer

washington -- At the World Bank -- heavily influenced by its largest shareholder, the United States -- the effect of projects on climate change is not even calculated.

Bank environment officials pressed to account for emissions in the mid- to late-'90s and again in an unpublished paper in 2002, and only now, five years later, are attempting again.

"Our biggest obstacle has been that politically, [climate change] is very controversial," said Kristalina Georgieva, the bank's strategy and operations director for sustainable development.

In February 2006, for example, the World Bank's operating vice presidents gathered to discuss a draft of a progress report, requested by the Group of 8 leading industrialized nations, titled "Climate Change, Energy and Sustainable Development: Towards an Investment Framework." The bank executives endorsed the report, according to minutes obtained by the Government Accountability Project and authenticated by The Times.

But afterward, the summary noted, the office of then-World Bank President Paul D. Wolfowitz -- a President Bush appointee -- "asked the team to refocus the paper shifting from a climate lens mainly to a clean-energy lens." A note of uncertainty should be injected, a top Wolfowitz aide instructed: "Elaborate on the challenge of mitigating climate change and reducing the vulnerability to the impact of climate change."

"Climate change" was duly removed from the name of the paper, which was issued within months as "Clean Energy and Development: Towards an Investment Framework."

"There's very good stuff" in the plan, but it's "a hodgepodge of ideas," said Bruce Jenkins, policy director of the Bank Information Center, a private World Bank watchdog group. "The bank requires a much more direct action plan."

Georgieva said that against this backdrop, "it's very difficult to be super-effective, to shift big-time to tackle this problem."

Like the U.S. Export-Import Bank and Overseas Private Investment Corp., the World Bank has contributed to fossil-fuel energy projects, including a recent grant to help develop lignite coal mining and power plants in Kosovo, despite a review the bank commissioned in 2001 that suggested phasing out oil and gas investments by 2008 and extending a moratorium on coal.

Calculating the emissions for each proposal is a start, Georgieva said: "What you measure is what you worry about. It serves as an example for others. It should be part of the decision process [though], it should not be yes and no."

Georgieva says she is optimistic that this time it will happen, given the recent United Nations report stating conclusively that humans are causing global warming. Even so, Georgieva estimates it will be at least two years before emissions are integrated into decision-making.

Given the urgency, she added, "we are not moving fast enough. It's not possible to be moving fast enough."

--

judy.pasternak@latimes.com

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