How much leverage do donors really have on climate change?

World Bank President Jim Yong Kim addresses the media during a press conference on the United Nations Climate Summit held on Sept. 23, 2014 in New York City. Climate change is one of the hottest topics at this year’s World Bank-International Monetary Fund annual meetings. Photo by: Cia Pak / U.N.

As World Bank President Jim Yong Kim and other top level executives convene this week for the institution’s annual meetings in Washington, D.C., climate change will surely be a buzz topic.

Kim himself will be participating in a panel focused on ways to boost renewable energy and in particular the role of the aid community in limiting greenhouse gas emissions.

But how much influence do top development donors actually have in the fight against global warming? Very little, according to Jairam Ramesh, India’s chief negotiator at the 2009 climate change conference in Copenhagen.

“If the World Bank says that for the next five years, we want to devote 30 percent of our funding for climate resilience … that might help,” Ramesh told Devex on Friday after an event at Georgetown University.

However, he underscored, “that’s not going to happen.”

The solution has to be political, and come incrementally. Ramesh expects an international agreement will emerge from the 2015 conference in Paris, yet he isn’t optimistic that deal will be environmentally sustainable, since participants also have to weigh political and economic priorities.

“We have yet to discover an economic model that is decoupled from pollution … deforestation, and … carbon emissions,” he said. “There is no magic bullet of an agreement waiting in Paris for us.”

Ramesh, though, is hopeful on making progress on wind and solar power through political leadership on an international scale as well as within developing nations such as India, that have a chance to bypass the mistakes of developed countries.

Others, like Paul Simpson, chief executive officer of the U.K.-based Carbon Disclosure Project, believe finding ways to address climate change should not be left completely to politicians.

Development donors, he told Devex, set the baseline, establishing what is and isn’t acceptable.

“What these development banks and the aid organizations can do is to catalyze change … beyond what the private sector can do because they’re not looking always for a financial return,” Simpson said in a phone conversation during which he applauded the World Bank’s decision not to invest in coal-fired power plants and encouraged other big donors to use their financial leverage to drive innovation.

Ajay Chhibber, former head of India’s Independent Evaluation Organization, offered a more nuanced perspective on the role of development donors in the fight against climate change in India.

“It’s such a big country that the donors are so small. This has to be more an Indian thing,” Chhibber told Devex Thursday after an event hosted by the Center for Global Development. “You can do pilots to show how it’s to be done. But that’s how I think aid has to be used more in India, as pilots to demonstrate, because the amount of funding needed is so huge.”

What should top donors like the World Bank do to better pull their weight on lighting climate change? Please let us know by sending an email to or leaving a comment below.

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About the author

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    Jeff Tyson

    Jeff is a global development reporter for Devex. Based in Washington, DC, he covers multilateral affairs, U.S. aid and international development trends. He has worked with human rights organizations in both Senegal and the United States, and prior to joining Devex worked as a production assistant at National Public Radio. He holds a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University and a bachelor’s degree in international relations and French from the University of Rochester.