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What the new World Bank President should do on REDD

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What the new World Bank President should do on REDD

Earlier this week, the World Bank’s Executive Directors chose a new president. For the 12th time in its history, the World Bank will have a US citizen as its president. No surprises there, then.

But the choice of Jim Yong Kim could bring some surprises at the World Bank. Mark Weisbrot of the Center for Economic and Policy Research told BBC News that, “There’s just no comparison between him and any of the prior World Bank presidents.”

“The others were political insiders. They spent most of their lives getting rich or becoming politically powerful, or worse. Kim, by contrast, has spent most of his life trying to improve the lives of poor people.”

In 1987, Kim co-founded Partners in Health, a non-profit organisation that provides health care to poor communities. In 2000, he co-edited a book titled, “Dying for Growth”. When Kim takes up his new job in July 2012, he will be the first World Bank President to have written something that Noam Chomsky described as “poignant, vivid, and highly informative” and “a thoughtful and compelling call to action”.

Jim Yong Kim has said that he will “seek a new alignment of the World Bank Group” to prioritise “evidence-based solutions over ideology”. In an interview with the BBC, he said that the World Bank “has to think about how it can engage in problems such as climate change”. The first test of whether Kim is serious about this will be whether he signs off on a World Bank loan for a huge coal-fired power plant in Kosovo.

Then, there’s the Bank’s role in REDD.

Kim is currently President of Dartmouth College. He could do worse than read the analysis produced in December 2010 by the Climate Justice Research Project at Dartmouth College. It’s a top ten list of what’s wrong with REDD, particularly the market-based variety.

The World Bank’s REDD programme is currently based on ideology over evidence-based solutions. It’s based on REDD as a carbon trading mechanism. The World Bank employs 200 staff working on carbon markets.

As REDD-Monitor has explained repeatedly, carbon offsets do not reduce emissions, they just move them from one place to another. Offsets are also inequitable since the reduction in emissions is counted where the carbon credits are bought, not where they are sold. If Indonesia succeeds in reducing deforestation but finances this through REDD credits, the reduction will not count against the 41% reduction against business as usual that President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has promised. If it did, the reduction would be double counted.

So here’s a suggestion for Jim Yong Kim when he takes up his new job in July 2012. Suspend the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility, and instigate a thorough review of all the Bank’s REDD activities, to ensure that Kim’s new organisation’s promotion of REDD is not going to make matters worse for the world’s poor, as his previous organisation suggested it might.

But if Kim plans to retreat from his previously stated anti-neoliberal position (and there are already signs that he may well do so), a better suggestion comes from Patrick Bond. Rather than legitimising a destructive institution, he should tender his resignation immediately.

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  1. I hope that JYK is prepared to sack three-quarters of his staff, because it’s not just on REDD issues that ideology prevails over evidence, it’s right across the World Bank and its activities. The only evidence that most of the 1818H Street ideologues recognise is that which emerges from the Bank’s own research, which has been proven to be mostly self-justifying of the underlying ideology.

  2. @TreeFellas (#1) – I realise that this post reveals my REDD tunnel vision. I agree that much bigger changes are needed at the Bank than merely suspending FCPF. I should have made that clear in the post…

    Andrea Cornwall, professor of anthropology and development at the University of Sussex, has a five step suggestion for Jim Yong Kim’s first year at the Bank:

    The new World Bank president has a tough job on his hands. What he should focus on in the first year is getting his house in order. Step one should be a cull of those 9,000 economists. They’ve shown themselves to be part of the problem. Replacing the army of neoliberals with a more diverse crew who have some understanding of culture, context and complexity – and more of a concern about social justice – would be the wisest investment he could make.

    Step two should be to lay the foundations for a more democratic, diverse and transparent Bank by a similar cull of the board. Open nominations for development visionaries from the global south to help the bank step up to the task of transformation, and let the new president take his pick and justify it to the watching world. Half should be women.

    Step three would be to open the Bank’s headquarters to a carnival of ideas. Invite grassroots movements and visionary bureaucrats to come, share and inspire.

    Step four would be to complement this with an ambitious new listening survey to help shape the Bank’s agenda. This time, rather than ventriloquising the “voices of the poor” to support neoliberal policies that cut away their security, the process should be genuinely deliberative, reaching out far and wide using a mixture of traditional forums and new digital technologies.

    The next step would be the introduction of a new set of institutional incentives that measure success not by the size of disbursement but by positive contributions to social justice. If all of these steps are taken, my wish that the Bank would ditch empowerment-lite and invest instead in addressing the structural causes of gender inequality might just stand a chance of coming true …