Message to World Bank: Clean does not equal coal

Congress cuts funding for the Bank's Clean Technology Fund. Planet sighs with relief.

Published March 6, 2009 10:17PM (EST)

A year ago I highlighted criticism of the World Bank's Clean Technology Fund levied by the Center for Global Development's David Wheeler. Wheeler was upset, and rightfully so, that the CTF was funding "super-critical" coal-fired power plant construction in Botswana and India, under the justification that the new high tech power plants would be more efficient than the coal-fired technology that those countries would otherwise be depending on. Wheeler called foul. A clean technology fund should be investing in clean technology.

Wheeler wanted the Bank to guide its investments by a technique known as "carbon accounting." The economics of coal-fired plants look much worse, and solar thermal power plants much better, if you put a price on the amount of carbon dioxide emitted. But his protest fell on deaf ears at the World Bank.

The reception appears to have been different at Congress, where Wheeler testified in June 2008. In the spending bill passed last week by the House, the budget zeroed out $400 million dollars previously allotted by the U.S. Government to the World Bank for the Clean Technology Fund. No explanation was given, but the implication is pretty clear. With Obama in the White House, and Congress determined to pass climate change legislation, there's no longer a whole lot of interest in funding clean technology that isn't, well, clean.

David Wheeler's thoughts on the newest developments are to the point.

It is, quite simply, a stunning failure of the Bank's senior management to take off their blinders -- to see that in the new era, the World Bank will not be assigned global leadership on clean technology investment if it refuses to assume responsibility for its own carbon footprint.

By Andrew Leonard

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

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