David Roberts

David Roberts

Energy, politics, and more

David Roberts is a staff writer for Grist. You can subscribe to his RSS feed or follow him on Twitter or email him at droberts at grist dot org, if you're into that sort of thing.

From a Sage Francis song

"I'm leaving naysayers stumped like rain forests" Gotta love hip-hop.

The World Bank and clean energy

It’s not meeting its own weak targets

In 2000, in response to worries that World Bank investments in extractive fossil-fuel projects were exacerbating poverty and degrading the environment, then-WB president James Wolfensohn conceived an independent review to investigate the legitimacy of the concerns. In 2001, he launched the review and appointed Emil Salim, former environment minister of Indonesia, to lead it. The Extractive Industries Review was completed in December 2003. The review confirmed the worst accusations of World Bank critics. Its recommendations were, at least in terms of the status quo, fairly radical, urging a substantial reduction in fossil-fuel investments and increase in renewable energy investments. In September 2004, after several delays, World Bank management issued its formal response (press release; full PDF), rejecting most of the recommendations. In particular, it elected not to cease investing in fossil-fuel extraction. To avoid unpleasant optics, management did pledge to increase investment in clean energy. Specifically, it pledged to increase such investments by 20% every fiscal year. So how's it doing with that? According to Friends of the Earth (press release; full report), not so well: The report finds that the World Bank, despite being tapped by the G8 countries to develop a framework for financing renewable energy sources, fell far short of its own target for increasing financial support for renewable energy and energy efficiency. The Bank increased funding by only 7 percent, or $14 million, in fiscal year 2005 -- less than half its announced target of a 20 percent increase annually over the next five years. The renewable and efficiency financing by the World Bank for fiscal year 2005 represents only 9 percent of all the Bank's financing in the energy sector. Meanwhile, the Bank continues to finance fossil fuel pipelines and is making a move back into destructive large dams for energy generation in developing countries.

The future of international climate agreements

Voluntarily cutting growth or consumption seems unlikely; what is the alternative?

The COP-11 talks -- or rather, "the first meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol in conjunction with the eleventh session of the Conference of the Parties to the Climate Change Convention" -- are coming up in Montreal at the end of the month. The protocol (itself a product of COP-3) went into effect in February. According to the treaty, the parties to the protocol were supposed to have an agreement about post-Kyoto steps before it went into effect. There is no such agreement -- nor, apparently, does anyone think such an agreement will emerge from COP-11. "There is a consensus that the caps, targets and timetables approach is flawed. If we spend the next five years arguing about that, we'll be fiddling and negotiating while Rome burns," [Australian Environment Minister Ian] Campbell said. The big complaint from the U.S. and Australia (and, increasingly, Kyoto participants) is that developing countries like China and India are not bound by the protocol. With billions of poor waiting for the fruits of modern society, robust growth, and economies driven by cheap, easily available coal, these countries will soon swamp any CO2 reductions made by developed countries. U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair apparently agrees. He echoed this line of thinking in an Observer editorial hyping the importance of the climate talks opening today in London between the G8 countries and developing-world nations. He has been increasingly blunt lately about the fact that he no longer believes the Kyoto model ("caps, targets, and timetables approach") can work; this week's talks will focus instead on technology. COP-11 may play out as a big international bitching session about the U.S.'s refusal to ratify Kyoto. But even if the U.S. and Australia committed to Kyoto, and every country already involved in Kyoto magically met its targets (which seems unlikely), worldwide CO2 emissions would not be reversed or even stabilized. A Kyoto best case scenario is still a grim outcome for the planet. I may be pilloried for this by my environmental brethren, but I'm inclined to think Blair is right that "no country is going to cut its growth or consumption substantially in the light of a long-term environmental problem." It would be nice if they would. It would also be nice if they gave ponies to all their small children. But we'd have to see a pretty drastic change in geopolitics -- nay, human nature -- for such behavior to become the norm. People want better lives. Countries want to develop. If our survival depends on voluntarily slowing or stopping development, we're probably well and truly screwed. The alternative is to put our time, energy, money, and international agreements behind techniques and technologies for sustainable development. It's a long shot, but it's starting to look like the only one.