The World Bank, an international financial institution with a mission of bringing people out of poverty, took an unprecedented step last week when it released an unflinching report about the destruction soon to be wrought by climate change. The report, "Turn Down the Heat," painted a picture of a world scalded by a 4 degrees C temperature rise. It was hailed as a crucial step in aligning climate change action with worldwide business and development interests. After all, no one would call the World Bank a bastion of treehugging hippies -- if it is urging action, perhaps even the reticent rich will start to listen?
Fast-forward one measly day: The nonprofit World Resources Institute released a completely unrelated working paper [PDF] highlighting just how far the world is from abandoning our favorite fossil fuels, and avoiding the 4-degree hellscape the World Bank envisions. There are currently 1,199 coal-fired power plants under proposal around the world, according to the group. The bulk of them (76 percent, to be exact) are in China and India.
The timing of these two reports seems serendipitous at first: An esteemed and central member of the world’s financial elite shouts “fire!” from a rooftop, followed immediately by the revelation that this terrifying conflagration is almost certainly on its way if we continue to burn coal along our current trajectory. The problem, though, can be found on page 19, table IV, of the WRI report on coal plants: The second-largest public international financier of coal-fired power plants around the world is -- you guessed it, the World Bank Group.