Monday, October 22, 2007

World Bank Recommits to Environmental Sustainability

Following Wolfowitz's departure as head of the World Bank a new sheriff is in town, Robert B. Zoellick. According to a report I was listening to on NPR this morning there was a discussion on the absence of language affirming the need to address climate change. Instead, the report asserted that World Bank language tended to focus upon clean energy and so on, yet never attributed a rationale for this clean energy need.

Now, with Zoellick in charge there is a renewed appreciation of the climatic issues the planet faces and particular focus has been placed upon addressing the ways in which development can alleviate poverty while simultaneously deal with climate change.

This is an interesting statement. But in reading his speech to the World Bank meetings in DC I take issue with some of his thinking. For one, the statement that, "Poverty breeds instability, disease, devastation of common resources and the environment" is somewhat misleading.

Now, I don't disagree with the observation that poverty and instability are connected, but the idea that poverty some how increases the destruction of natural resources seems a bit off. After all if we take a look at map representing our global footprint we can see that the richest nations all consume the overwhelming majority of resources.

Likewise, if we want to get real specific on the destruction of forests and other natural resources in developing countries, we can find that many of these projects are being funded, supported and driven not by individual users of resources, but of larger corporations that utilize these raw commodities.

Unfortunately, regulating what the affluent do to the planet is not the domain of the World Bank, but perhaps before calling poverty the cause of destruction we should remember that the last 150 years of the Industrial Revolution is what has gotten us where we are today. That is what development has meant.

Yet, I won't fault Zoellick for this misstatement too much, after all the remainder of his address touch on some very critical issues and present the idea that development in the context of the 21st century must find an alternative path to that pursued by the West in the past century and a half. So at least here we are in agreement.

Anyway, interesting statement and definitely worth the read if global poverty and social justice are topics that inspire or infuriate you.