Opinion: A green recovery action plan for the World Bank

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Women water mukau saplings in Kenya. Photo by: Flore de Preneuf / World Bank / CC BY-NC-ND

In this era of multiple crises, it’s important to consider the question: What solutions work for all of them?

The crises we’re talking about are racial injustice, the coronavirus pandemic, and climate change. They seem disparate, but there is a connection: All three hit people of color and poor and marginalized groups the hardest.

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Climate, in particular, is most often discussed among governments and groups in the global north. Yet the grim reality is that it is impacting poor rural and coastal communities, from Mozambique to the Maldives to Mexico. Racial and social justice compel us to act on climate even as we address police brutality and access to health care.

To address all three issues, it is clear that business as usual is no longer an option. Governments and multilateral organizations that are serious about ending poverty and improving governance while caring for the health of people and planet must think outside the box to identify a new set of approaches and partners to shape a more resilient future. Climate justice requires systemic change.

Adopting these measures would help protect and amplify the bank’s impact and effectiveness, to the benefit of those who stand to lose the most.

According to the United Nations Development Programme, 75 countries — which represent 37% of global greenhouse gas emissions — are leading the way in their enhancement of national climate plans by curbing emissions, by including measures to make societies more resilient to climate change, or by doing both. But more countries, particularly those with carbon-intensive economies, need to emphatically embrace green recovery plans so that the billions spent in response to COVID-19 move us closer to — not further away from — our critical climate and sustainable development goals.

This is where the World Bank comes in. With a mandate to address climate change and its impacts on the poorest and most vulnerable, the bank is well positioned to steer the governments it works with down a greener, more just and resilient pathway. The bank has already proposed a sustainability checklist to assess COVID-19 recovery projects.

That’s a great start, but there is a lot more the bank can do to address the coronavirus and climate catastrophes at the same time. Here are the top five:

  • Redesign development policy loans. When the World Bank partners with countries to help them tackle challenges, such as recovering from the coronavirus pandemic, they use loans with strings attached, known as development policy loans. If the bank were to support through these DPLs only those policies that advance Paris Agreement goals, while excluding those propping up fossil fuels and fossil fuel subsidies and while providing a just transition for workers in those industries, it could steer the world closer to both climate and justice goals.

  • Partner with local actors. The bank needs to expand and accelerate the Dedicated Grant Mechanism for Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities. The mechanism funnels funds for forest preservation directly to the people whose livelihoods depend on forests the most. But many of these groups still face daunting political and economic interests that are destroying and degrading forests for short-term gain.

  • Support forests and forest peoples. Given that one of forests’ greatest values to human well-being is in stabilizing the climate — for example, by absorbing and storing carbon above and below ground and by regulating rainfall — and the low level of climate finance for forests and people that protect and conserve forests, the World Bank and other development finance institutions should scale up financial incentives for climate change solutions that integrate forests and forest peoples who serve as effective ecosystem stewards.

  • Ensure tenure security for the marginalized. The bank has supported some mechanisms to avoid climate risks for vulnerable countries, such as the Caribbean Catastrophe Risk Insurance Facility, which helps governments with disaster recovery, but not smallholders and other marginalized groups. Promoting tenure security for these people and prioritizing collective land titling improve security and risk by giving Indigenous peoples and other traditional groups legal access to their land and resources, potential access to credit, and increased incentives for sustainable land management.

  • Apply metrics that include natural capital. Right now, World Bank metrics focus on economic and social indicators. These are necessary, but they must be adapted to support lowering the carbon intensity of the activities it funds in each sector and to increase the use of metrics that focus on ecosystem function, including forest cover, biodiversity, and soil organic carbon content — the natural capital that underpins economic and social goals.

Sustaining and accelerating climate action amid a pandemic is no easy task for the World Bank or anyone else. However, adopting these measures would help protect and amplify the bank’s impact and effectiveness, to the benefit of those who stand to lose the most.

The views in this opinion piece do not necessarily reflect Devex's editorial views.

About the author

  • Ladd Connell

    Ladd Connell is environment director at Bank information Center, with a specific focus on the role of forests in sustainable development and the importance of secure land titles for Indigenous and forest peoples. Prior to joining BIC, Ladd was the director for multilateral relations at Conservation International and also consulted with the International Union for Conservation of Nature, leading its work on the World Bank safeguarding policies.