Banking the Globe: To Disaster?

The World Bank is a magnificent institution, with many tremendous people working at it, with a highly valuable large charter in terms of changing the world for the better.

The World Bank is a vital source of financial and technical assistance to developing countries around the world. 

 our mission of global poverty reduction and the improvement of living standards. … we provide low-interest loans, interest-free credit and grants to developing countries for education, health, infrastructure, communications and many other purposes.

Sadly, as is all too known by anyone who pays attention, the World Bank’s core charter does not speak to sustainability, does not address ensuring that the path for generating wealth does not foster disaster for tomorrow.

Yet again, Bank policies contrary to its words have come to light, this time in Brazil.  As per Independent reporting,

The World Bank has emerged as one of the key backers behind an explosion of cattle ranching in the Amazon, which new research has identified as the greatest threat to the survival of the rainforest.

Yes, that cattle will generate wealth. Wealth for a few, wealth for a limited time. It will also generate nice, juicy steaks to foster even more unsustainable diets around the globe.  Yet, that cattle ranching is denuding, perhaps killing one of the greatest carbon sinks in the world and a primary producer of quality air (oxygen) for all of us.

 Ranching has grown by half in the last three years, driven by new industrial slaughterhouses which are being constructed in the Amazon basin with the help of the World Bank. The revelation flies in the face of claims from the bank that it is funding efforts to halt deforestation and reduce the massive greenhouse gas emissions it causes.

Yes, the World Bank has long liked to brag about its efforts to protect the Amazon.  But, will it embrace publicly, embrace the truth that a left-hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing approach to sustainability simply does not meet the World’s requirements for meaningful policy to deal with Global Warming? 

Is Environmental Havoc a reasonable end-result of ensuring Brazilian beef for $0.99 cent burgers in US fast food restaurants?

The Independent reporting derives from a leaked Friends of the Earth report, The Cattle Realm, written by Roberto Smeraldi, head of Friends of the Earth Brazil, highlighting the contradictions of World Bank policy in Brazil.  Sadly, that contradiction is emblemmatic of Bank policy, rather than exception.

The World Bank, which unveiled a new programme to fund “avoided deforestation” at the UN climate summit in Bali last month, is at the same time pouring money into the expansion of slaughterhouses in the Amazon region. The new report estimates that the internationally funded expansion of Brazil’s beef industry was responsible for up to 12 billion tons of CO2 emissions over the past decade – an amount comparable to two years of emissions from the US.

In other words, the expansion of Brazil’s beef industry has created the equivalent of about half a year’s global emissions. And, the situation will only get worse as the existing industry is expanding rapidly thanks, in no small part, to your and my money via our countries’ funding of the World Bank.

At Bali, last month, the World Bank committed itself to efforts to stop deforestration.

The World Bank’s president, Robert Zoellick, claimed that the project “signals that the world cares about the global value of forests and is ready to pay for it. There is now a value to conserving, not just harvesting the forest.”

Let us look at the contradiction of policy with words.

In a single project last year, the IFC – part of the World Bank group – handed $9m to Brazil’s leading beef processor to upgrade its slaughterhouse operations in the Amazon, despite an environmental study, carried out for the IFC, which showed that expansion of a single slaughterhouse in Maraba would lead to the loss of up to 300,000 hectares of forest to make way for more cattle.

$9 million in funding to foster carving out an additional 300,000 hectares (740,000 acres or about 1158 square miles) of tropical forest to put ground meat in fast food restaurants.

This isn’t exactly happening in secret. This one slaughterhouse was opposed by at least 30 Brazilian and global NGOs.  Guess the World’s Bankers value sirloin strips today over a livable planet tomorrow.

A question, a challenge for the next Administration:

Will the United State’s leadership role in the World Bank lead the bank toward a focus on sustainability or will the world’s central bankers remain more tied to their limousines than the world we will leave behind for future generations?


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