Wednesday, August 17

I work at the World Bank and see how humanity is failing in the climate crisis

The World Bank faces the greatest test in its history. Its directors will attend the COP26 world climate summit in Glasgow these days, where key decisions will be made about the fate of humanity. If the Bank wants to meet its official goal of eradicating poverty and building shared prosperity, now is the time to step up because nothing will increase poverty or harm prosperity more than an uncontrolled rise in temperatures.

However, the World Bank may well fail the test. Since the historic Paris Climate Agreement, the multilateral body has directly spent more than $ 12 billion in financing fossil fuel projects at a time when the world needs to get away from dirty energy as soon as possible. After a data manipulation scandal in which its senior officials were implicated, the overall credibility of the body is at a minimum.

I work at the World Bank and have seen this drama unfold from the inside. Unfortunately, I don’t think my employer will become a climate leader anytime soon. In my opinion, political pressure from the highest levels of management has wiped out the internal processes of the organization. An external investigation denounced that the Bank had exercised “undue pressure“on their own researchers to rig a list where countries were classified according to the ease of creating companies.

It is a symptom of other pervasive institutional practices that undermine the Bank’s ability to lead global development priorities, including the fight against climate change. To the World Bank he loves to show off of the “climate finance“which he concedes, but is less willing to talk about your support to dirty energy projects that contribute to global warming. Behind this opacity may be hiding a darker truth: the institution continues to promote dirty energy sources that contribute to global warming.

The bank yes has made some progress in the fight against warming, such as stopping financing directly for coal-fired power plants. But the catch is that it continues to help coal through hidden channels. In its loans to the private sector, the World Bank continues to indirectly support coal plants through its customers in commercial banking, as it does for example in Indonesia. They are projects incompatible with a serious commitment to climate action. The Bank is not being honest about such covert support.

The World Bank is financed by taxpayer money from member states and its specific mandate is to end poverty and build shared prosperity. If you want to maintain your international credibility, you cannot be seen as an obstacle in the fight against climate change. The bank should eliminate all direct and indirect support for fossil fuels and instead fund a just transition to clean energy sources around the world. Endorsing developing countries with soon-to-be-obsolete technology is not putting them on the path to green development.

A president embroiled in controversy

But it’s hard to imagine the World Bank tackling the global climate challenge without going through major institutional changes first. As the old saying goes, the fish rots from the head. The current president of the organization, David Malpass, worked in 2016 during Donald Trump’s anti-climactic presidential campaign. And in 2010 it was said that Malpass had denied that human-made carbon dioxide emissions were behind global warming.

Trump chose Malpass in 2019 to chair the World Bank, where it remained relatively silent on weather-related issues until he came up with a plan that was described by activist organizations as a big mistake because it did not eliminate aid for fossil fuels. Looking at Malpass’s track record, it’s easy to think that he lacks the vision and credibility necessary to transform the World Bank into a leader in the fight against climate change.

It is time to end the tradition of them being those who run the World Bank. The world cannot allow the institutions that promote development to be immobilized by the political system of the United States, where companies rule. The next person to lead the World Bank, preferably not a man, should have a real commitment to solutions in the fight against warming and come from a developing country on the front line of the climate crisis.

My co-workers are decent, smart, and forward-thinking people. They work at the World Bank because they believe in the institution’s stated goals of ending poverty and building shared prosperity, and they want the body to be a leader in the fight against climate change. But too often our ability to get there is thwarted by what the World Bank’s employees association has described as a “much larger systemic problem of top management submission to political pressure.”

A audit conducted by WilmerHale Law Firm It found that in the latest data manipulation scandal, senior managers pressured and even intimidated staff into rigging the numbers and artificially raising China’s score on the investment conditions ranking. The workers tried to report it but, according to the employees’ association, the Bank’s internal justice system is “incapable of holding senior officials accountable” and did not protect employees who complained after being intimidated.

A World Bank that truly responded before its employees would be a more effective leader in the fight for development. This sordid episode has seriously hurt our credibility. I never worked in the department where the scandal occurred and I am fortunate to have signed a full-time employment contract, with a decent salary and good salary extras. But the conditions can be especially distressing for women and for the mass of consultants with short-term contracts who suffer the mistreatment of the Bank.

I have spent six happy years at the Bank. In the end, I have decided to speak in public because the recent scandals convinced me that there is no internal path that allows the reform of the body. Institutional failures are destroying our ability to deliver on climate change, the most pressing global development priority of all. Rather than cater to the selfish whims of powerful interests, the World Bank must put its immense resources at the service of this fundamental issue. Civil society activists and Bank employees have been saying this for years. It’s time for our bosses to start listening. Poverty cannot be eradicated on a planet where ecosystems are crumbling.

Jake Hess is a researcher at the World Bank in Washington DC.

Translation by Francisco de Zárate.