World Bank Continues to Fund Climate Chaos, Despite Recognizing the Threat
By Allison Lee
In the last year alone, vulnerable populations have suffered massive damage from the impacts of a changing climate. "Super hurricanes" have torn through the Caribbean—turbocharged by abnormally warm waters—making islands uninhabitable.
Flooding, mudslides, wildfires, and avalanches have hit nearly every continent, killing thousands. These extreme weather events decimated basic infrastructure and destroyed livelihoods and economies. While not all of these individual events can be unequivocally linked to climate change, many are strengthened by it, and they are a harbinger of things to come in a world of climate disruption.
In keeping with their mission to end poverty, multilateral development banks (MDBs) have been vocal about the climate challenge. The World Bank has called climate change an "acute threat to global development that increases instability and contributes to poverty, fragility, and migration," and has noted that their client countries "recognize the threat and the opportunity: that the transition to a low-carbon, climate resilient economy can drive innovation, jobs, and growth."
Despite these words, a new briefing released Thursday shows that about a quarter of these banks' investments between fiscal years 2014 and 2016 flowed to fossil fuel infrastructure—$28 billion in total—directly at odds with efforts to fight climate change. In the 2016 fiscal year alone, multilateral development banks provided $9 billion in public finance to fossil fuel projects—a form of public subsidy. The majority of this $9 billion in finance actually occurred after the Paris agreement had already been reached in late 2015.
The World Bank Group and Asian Development Bank drove the 2016 increase in fossil fuel finance, including major support to exploration for oil and gas—some of the most egregious fossil fuel projects given that the world has more already-producing fossil fuel reserves than the climate can bear. Burning through the reserves in currently-operating oil and gas fields alone, even if coal use suddenly stopped tomorrow, would take us far beyond 1.5°C of warming.
Given these catastrophic implications, civil society groups are uniting to demand real climate leadership from the World Bank. The Big Shift campaign calls for an immediate end to coal and exploration finance, and an end to all MDB fossil finance by 2020, except for very rare circumstances where no other option is available to support energy access for the poor.
Multilateral development banks are making some progress in climate-proofing their portfolios, but not at a rate needed to achieve a structural shift to low carbon energy systems. The banks studied in Thursday's newly-released briefing reported an increase in their climate finance in FY16, and clean energy finance also increased in FY16, to $11.4 billion. However, a new E3G analysis of "green-to-brown" energy finance in bank portfolios argues that levels of climate and fossil finance have remained relatively constant from 2013 to 2015, and the reported increase comes from misclassification of fossil projects as climate finance—thus revealing little progress in scaling up climate finance or phasing out support for fossil fuel expansion.
Global energy markets are complex, as is the role of fossil fuels in economies and human societies. But the climate science is clear. Financing long-term fossil fuel infrastructure without innovative transition plans will set countries and the world up to fail. The poor and vulnerable will be hardest hit. Because public finance often crowds in additional investment and sends broader market signals, it is especially critical that these scarce resources are used to accelerate the clean energy transition.
At a time when super-hurricanes could become the new normal, multilateral development banks must no longer deny the contradiction of financing both climate mitigation and long-term fossil fuel infrastructure. "Climate leadership" is not leadership at all without concurrent, ambitious efforts towards a managed decline of fossil fuels.
Multilateral development banks—including the World Bank—should:
- Immediately end all finance for coal projects and for fossil fuel exploration activities;
- Commit to ending all fossil fuel financing by 2020, except for very rare circumstances where no other option is available to support energy access for the poor; and
- Shift internal incentives for staff and change the way projects are evaluated at MDBs to ensure these institutions lead the way in the transition to sustainable energy for all.
By Karen L. Smith-Janssen
Colette Pichon Battle gave a December 2019 TEDWomen Talk on the stark realities of climate change displacement, and people took notice. The video racked up a million views in about two weeks. The attorney, founder, and executive director of the Gulf Coast Center for Law & Policy (GCCLP) advocates for climate justice in communities of color. Confronted with evidence showing how her own South Louisiana coastal home of Bayou Liberty will be lost to flooding in coming years, the 2019 Obama Fellow dedicates herself to helping others still reeling from the impacts of Katrina face the heavy toll that climate change has taken—and will take—on their lives and homelands. Her work focuses on strengthening multiracial coalitions, advocating for federal, state, and local disaster mitigation measures, and redirecting resources toward Black communities across the Gulf South.
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By Stuart Braun
"These are not just wildfires, they are climate fires," Jay Inslee, Governor of Washington State, said as he stood amid the charred remains of the town of Malden west of Seattle earlier this month. "This is not an act of God," he added. "This has happened because we have changed the climate of the state of Washington in dramatic ways."
'These Aren't Wildfires'<p>Sam Ricketts, who led climate policy and strategy for Governor Jay Inslee's 2020 presidential campaign, tweeted on September 11 that "These aren't wildfires. These are #climatefires, driven by fossil fuel pollution."</p><p>"The rate and the strength and the devastation wrought by these disasters are fueled by climate change," Ricketts told DW of fires that have burnt well over 5 million acres across California, Oregon, Washington State, and into neighboring Idaho. </p><p>In a two-day period in early September, Ricketts notes that more of Washington State burned than in almost any entire fire season until now, apart from 2015. </p><p>California, meanwhile, was a tinderbox after its hottest summer on record, with temperatures in Death Valley reaching nearly 130 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the U.S. National Weather Service. It has been reported as the hottest temperature ever measured on Earth.</p>
<div id="29ad9" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8346fe7350e1371d400097cd48bf45a2"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1306969603180879872" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Drought-parched wetlands in South America have been burning for weeks. https://t.co/pjAKdFcKPg #Pantanal https://t.co/ImN2C5vwcp</div> — NASA Earth (@NASA Earth)<a href="https://twitter.com/NASAEarth/statuses/1306969603180879872">1600440810.0</a></blockquote></div><p>As evidenced by Australia's apocalyptic Black Summer of 2019-2020, fires are burning bigger and for longer, with new records set year-on-year. Right now, Brazil's vast and highly biodiverse Pantanal wetlands are suffering from catastrophic fires.</p>
#climatefires Started in Australia<p>Governor Inslee this month invoked the phrase climate fires for arguably the first time in the U.S., according to Ricketts.</p><p>But the term was also used as fires burnt out of control in Australia in late 2019. In the face of a 2000km (more than 1,200 miles) fire front, and government officials and media who <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/trump-climate-change-denial-emissions-environment-germany-fake-heartland-seibt/a-52688933" target="_blank">played down the link to climate change</a>, Greens Party Senator Sarah Hanson-Young and a friend decided that reference to bushfires was inadequate. </p><p>"We both just said, we've got to start calling them climate fires, that's what they are," the Australian Senator told DW.</p><p>Hanson-Young says scientists have been warning for decades that these would be the effects of global heating. "We've been told these kinds of extreme weather events and destruction is what climate change would look like, and it's right here on our doorstep," she said from her home state of South Australia — where by early September fire warnings had already been issued.</p><p>"Calling them climate fires was making it absolutely crystal clear. It is essential that there's no ambiguity," she said </p><p>Having deliberately invoked the term, Hanson-Young soon started to push it on social media via a #climatefires hashtag. </p>
How to Talk About the Urgency of Global Heating<p>The need to use more explicit language when talking about extreme weather events linked to climate change is part of a broader push to express the urgency of global heating. In 2019, activist Greta Thunberg tweeted that the term "climate change" did not reflect the seriousness of the situation. </p><p>"Can we all now please stop saying 'climate change' and instead call it what it is: climate breakdown, climate crisis, climate emergency, ecological breakdown, ecological crisis and ecological emergency?" she wrote. </p><p>"Climate change has for a long time been talked about as something that is a danger in the future," said Hansen-Young. "But the consequences are already here. When people hear the word crisis, they understand that something has to happen, that action has to be taken."</p><p><span></span>Some terms are now used in public policy, with state and national governments, and indeed the EU Parliament, declaring an official climate emergency in the last year. </p>
Words That Reflect the Science<p>But while the West Coast governors all fervently link the fires to an unfolding climate crisis, U.S. President Donald Trump continues to avoid any reference to climate. In a briefing about the fires, he responded to overtures by Wade Crowfoot, California's Natural Resources Secretary, to work with the states on the climate crisis by stating: "It'll start getting cooler. You just watch." Crowfoot replied by saying that scientists disagreed. Trump rejoined with "I don't think science knows, actually." </p><p>It was reminiscent of the anti-science approach to the coronavirus pandemic within the Trump administration, <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/donald-trump-admits-playing-down-coronavirus-risks/a-54874350" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">at least publicly</a>. Fossil fuel companies are also benefiting from his disavowal of climate science, with the Trump administration having <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/opinion-trumps-paris-climate-accord-exit-isnt-really-a-problem/a-51124958" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">pulled out of the Paris Agreement</a> and reopened fossil fuel infrastructure like the Keystone XL pipeline. </p><p>But the science community has responded, with Scientific American magazine endorsing Trump's Democratic presidential challenger Joe Biden, the first presidential endorsement in its 175-year history. </p><p>Hanson-Young says the use of explicit language like climate fires has also been important in Australia due to the climate denialism of politicians and the press, especially in publications owned by Rupert Murdoch. As fires burnt out much of Australia's southeast coast, they were commonly blamed on arson — a tactic also recently used in the U.S.</p>
Climate Rhetoric Could Help Decide Election<p>The language of climate has begun to influence the U.S. presidential election campaign, with Democratic nominee Joe Biden labelling President Trump a "climate arsonist."</p><p>Biden is touting a robust climate plan that includes a 2050 zero emissions target and a return to the Paris Agreement. Though lacking the ambition of The New Green Deal, it has been front and center of his policy platform in recent days, at a time when five hurricanes are battering the U.S. Gulf Coast while smoke blanketing the West Coast spreads all the way to the East. </p><p>People are experiencing the climate crisis in a visceral way and almost universally relate to the language of an emergency, says Ricketts. "They know something is wrong."</p>
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