World Bank urged to be ‘bold’ on climate change

The World Bank must make tackling climate change central to its role in the 21st century, the international development secretary Hilary Benn has argued.

Addressing the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London yesterday, Mr Benn called on the bank to set bold targets on reversing climate change that matched the scale of the problem faced.

Mr Benn was speaking ahead of the World Bank and IMF Spring Meetings in Washington DC this weekend, which he will attend in his role as UK governor of the bank, joined by the chancellor Gordon Brown.

Speaking at SOAS, Mr Benn said the World Bank would meet its millennium development goal to halve absolute global poverty and now needed to turn its power to tackling climate change, which risks reversing development progress.

The bank must become a “leading advocate of action to fight climate change,” he argued. “It needs to challenge the richer countries to act, including on financing. It should support developing countries to play their part in designing an international agreement that helps them grow and tackle climate change.”

Mr Benn said climate change is “hardest felt by those least responsible for it,” and called on rich nations to create funds to help poorer nations develop renewable, clean forms of energy.

Britain has asked the World Bank to develop an international financing system to offset the costs and risks of developing new, cleaner technologies, Mr Benn revealed.

Increasing developing countries’ access is essential to international development, he continued, but economic growth and poverty reduction must not be at the expense of the environment.

He argued: We know that continuing our current pattern of energy use will have devastating consequences for the earth’s climate and peoples’ lives.

“So the second challenge is to help mitigate future emissions by supporting sustainable and low-carbon development. And although the energy sector is key, for the World Bank to play a leading role in promoting cleaner and more efficient development options, it must work more broadly too, transport, carbon-efficient buildings are crucial, for example.”

Developing countries need incentives to preserve carbon banks and sinks, Mr Benn argued, adding carbon offsetting and trading schemes would play a role in this.

Rich nations must also help their poor counterparts meet the impact of climate change, he argued. All World Bank projects must be “climate-proofed”, meaning investment in development is not reversed by climate change.

“The World Bank now needs to set itself bold new targets for investment in renewables, energy efficiency, and low-carbon economic growth,” Mr Benn concluded.

“They must reflect the scale of challenge set out by recent reports, and the costs of not acting now.”

Mr Benn also called on the World Bank to continue reforming to meet the demands of the next phase of its history. It needs to fight criticism that it is the agent of rich countries, he argued. To do so, developing countries must become the focus of the bank’s work and also have more say in its running.

The bank must remember it acts best as a multilateral force, he continued. Mr Benn welcomed its increased decentralisation and migration from Washington. But he warned the bank must continue to fight corruption.

Mr Benn and Mr Brown will arrive at the World Bank as its president Paul Wolfowitz faces increasing pressure to resign. Mr Wolfowitz ordered a pay rise for his partner Shaha Riza, and the bank’s executive board has now confirmed that it did not approve the wage increase.