It’s bad news for clean energy and our planet today, as the United States failed to follow its own global warming guidelines. CLARIFICATION – The World Bank today is set to approve a $3.75 billion loan – despite some countries’ abstentions – to South African power utility Eskom to help build a 4,800 megawatt coal-fired power plant in Medupi. The funding would also facilitate plans for a second large coal plant in Kusile. The coal plants will be among the largest and most polluting worldwide.

Though the U.S. is the single largest shareholder in the Bank, the U.S. abstained from the vote to approve the loan, giving tacit approval to the coal plant funding. The decision goes against a coal guidance policy issued by the U.S. Treasury during talks in Copenhagen which encourages the development and funding of no or low carbon energy sources.

I blogged on this topic in March, as well, but unfortunately the endless protests and opposition to this move from the World Bank did not convince them otherwise. Check out this article and video of a protest in front of the World Bank yesterday, featuring Desmond D’Sa, chairperson of both the Wentworth Development Forum and the Coordinator of South Durban Community Environmental Alliance.

Granting financial assistance to projects like the Eskom coal plants — that will dramatically increase global warming pollution — is at cross purposes with everything else the Obama administration and the federal government is doing to reduce emissions, phase out fossil fuel subsidies, and make the switch to clean energy sources.

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Like D’Sa’s groups, nearly 200 organizations from South Africa and around the world have voiced opposition for the loan. Residents of the affected South African communities filed a complaint with the World Bank’s inspection panel earlier this week.

Chairmen of three U.S. Congressional committees with control over World Bank funding also expressed concerns, writing World Bank President Zoellick last week to raise “serious questions” about the wisdom of granting the request in light of the leadership role the Bank should be playing in post Copenhagen climate finance.

The World Bank should be using its financial assistance to help developing economies leapfrog high carbon development and promote investment in clean and ultimately cheaper alternatives such as wind and solar.

The coal plants proposed by Eskom would produce 25-40 million tons of global warming pollution each year, and would operate without the latest pollution controls for sulfur dioxide putting the health of African communities at risk. Eskom plans to sell the bulk of the power from the coal plants to industrial clients at deep discounts, while charging residential customers three to five times more for the remaining power.

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Our South African coalition partners put it best when describing this decision.

“Twenty years from now, people will look back and see this loan as a missed opportunity to change the world for the better,” said Tristen Taylor, Project Coordinator of Earthlife Africa Jhb. “Eskom and the World Bank have made a monumental failure to appreciate not only the dire circumstances that humanity finds itself in but also the possibility of alternative, cleaner and more efficient development. Today’s children will judge them harshly.”

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