Who's co-opting who?

The Global Environment Facility: Greenwash, or green pork?

By Andrew Leonard
April 12, 2006 3:10AM (UTC)
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Greenwash or green pork? When George Bush and radical environmentalists aim their artillery at the same enemy, does that mean the foe is truly reprehensible? Or does it mean the opposite?

This is what How the World Works is wondering, after learning a little about an institution called the Global Environmental Facility. Established in 1991, just before the Rio Earth Summit that produced landmark treaties on biodiversity and climate change, the GEF is an international financial institution affiliated with the World Bank, the U.N. Development Program, and U.N. Environment Program. It is empowered to help developing countries "fund projects and programs that protect the global environment."


So, naturally, the Bush administration, after deciding that the program is "not performing," wants to cut its funding. In an article originally published in Suedeutsche Zeitung, but posted today at Grist Magazine, Frank Loy, who served as the chief U.S. climate-change negotiator in the second Clinton administration, observes that the Bush administration has proposed a 50 percent cut in U.S. contributions to the GEF budget. And according to Loy, European leaders who give lip service to protecting the global environment haven't raised a peep.

Normally, at How the World Works we apply a simple rule in matters of this sort. If George Bush wants to cut something's funding, we're generally sure it should be given more money instead. And sure enough, if you dig around the Internet a little bit, you will find that the usual anti-environmentalist suspects as the Competitive Enterprise Institute and JunkScience.com decry the GEF as "green pork" that shovels tax money to invidious NGOs like Greenpeace. The GEF, writes CEI's James Sheehan, is a "giant protection racket in which environmental activists shake down the World Bank in exchange for their silence and even their support."

But the free market absolutists aren't the only ones casting a dim eye at the GEF. For critics from the left, the GEF is a nefarious neoliberal con designed to co-opt environmentalists into the corporatist embrace of the World Bank. In her book "A New Green Order" filmmaker and activist Zoe Young describes the GEF as "greenwash for the World Bank's environmentally destructive developments in forestry, dams, energy, transport etc."


"In fact, the growing environmental movement challenging the World Bank and IMF in the late 1980s was partially headed off at the pass with the help of GEFs new conservation money. Billions of additional aid dollars promised for conservation projects eclipsed Southern and radical Northern environmentalists claims for global ecological justice, environmental regulation on international trade and full and fair cost-benefit analyses of economic investments to ensure the polluter always pays.

"Viewed cynically, therefore, the GEF can be seen as a strategic response on the part of global power-brokers to the rise of environmental movements as a geo-political force."

So which is it? Greenwashing, or a protection racket? Co-optation, or a shakedown? All I know is which display of cynicism disturbs me the most. As a target for radical wrath, the GEF, which funds scores of renewable energy projects in developing nations, seems like a bad choice. But can anything trump the profound dishonesty of George Bush, who faces the nation and declares that the time has finally come to push for renewable energy development, and then turns around and seeks to cut funding for institutions that are busy doing just that, in the countries that need it the most?

Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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Environment Globalization How The World Works