The World Bank Group and International Monetary Fund spring meetings kick off on Tuesday, once again filling the bank’s Washington, D.C., headquarters with development professionals, policymakers, economists, advocates and a slew of other influential leaders seeking to shape the future of global development.
This year’s agenda promises high profile discussions on a range of pressing development challenges, in addition to critical sideline conversations and behind-the-scenes talks.
Here is a preview of the buzz around topics likely to see discussion — both on stage and in the sideline corridors — in the coming days:
While not officially on the agenda, many spring meetings participants will undoubtedly be talking about pandemic preparedness. While the international community has made some impressive strides in combating outbreaks, such as the Ebola virus, many global health experts feel the world is ill prepared for future outbreaks, which could emerge anywhere and in unprecedented forms.
The Zika virus will be the most recent case in point, as it spreads across Latin America and the Caribbean. The World Bank committed $150 million to combat the disease in February. And last week the U.S. White House announced that it will redirect over $500 million left over from Ebola response to fight the spread of Zika.
To better facilitate such emergency lending, The World Bank, the World Health Organization and other partners are working to develop a Pandemic Emergency Facility, an insurance-based instrument designed to provide quick funds to countries and health care responders when outbreaks occur.
Many questions about the new facility still remain, including how much it will cost, who will benefit, what donors will be involved, and whether viruses such as Zika would fit the category of pathogens it will be designed to address. Some critics wonder whether the PEF will work at all or if another approach is needed.
Senior management at the World Bank experienced a significant reshuffling late last year and early this year. Jin-Yong Cai, the head of the International Finance Corp. — the arm of the World Bank focused on private sector growth — and Bertrand Badré, the World Bank’s chief financial officer, stepped down from their posts. Former World Bank Vice President Philippe Le Houérou has recently become the new head of the IFC and former Brazilian Minister of Finance Joaquim Levy is the new CFO at the bank.
The circumstances surrounding Cai and Badré’s departures remain unclear, although both men came under fire last year following their handling of a controversial $1 billion loan from China that critics said may have exposed the IFC to a conflict of interest.
During these spring meetings however, conversations will likely focus on the impact Le Houérou, Levy and other recent managerial appointees will make at their posts, and what changes, if any, will be made to the way the bank does business. Some hope Le Houérou — a 30-year veteran of the World Bank — will come to the IFC with a stronger focus on development, which has at times been in tension with the corporation’s focus on financial returns.
AIIB now in business
The brand new China-based multilateral development bank — the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank — officially opened for business earlier this year and officials from the new institution will likely be in Washington, D.C., this week.
These are the first spring meetings to occur since the AIIB opened its doors. While World Bank management has publicly welcomed the Asian financial institution’s emergence as a global player, many are still labeling AIIB as a rival to the World Bank.
The spring meetings come four months after the Paris climate change conference, where world leaders agreed to lower global warming to “well below 2 degrees Celsius.” The gathering of many world leaders in Washington, D.C., this week will be an opportunity to keep the momentum going and push towards concrete action plans to achieve the Paris goals.
Last week, the World Bank unveiled its Climate Change Action Plan, designed to help countries deliver on their national climate agendas. And on Thursday, World Bank President Jim Yong Kim will be part of a high level panel with other global leaders to discuss actions required to achieve the goals laid out in the Paris conference.
As part of the bank’s new action plan, the IFC set a goal to expand its climate investments from $2.2 billion a year to $3.5 billion a year. The IFC also intends to leverage an additional $13 billion a year in private sector financing by 2020. The World Bank aims to contribute $25 billion in commercial financing for clean energy over the next five years and quadruple funding for transportation systems resilient to climate change. It will also invest at least $1 billion in energy efficiency and resilience.
Additionally, on Friday, there will be a high-level assembly of the Carbon Pricing Leadership Coalition — a group of government, private sector and civil society leaders committed to carbon pricing. Friday’s gathering will be a chance for the coalition to discuss “specific activities that will advance the carbon pricing agenda,” John Roome, senior director for climate change at the World Bank told reporters last week.
Forests are becoming a key word for the week. Safeguarding these areas can help countries reach climate change commitments and empower local communities.
Managing director and chief operating officer at the World Bank Sri Mulyani Indrawati is joining Colombia’s Minister of Finance, the President and CEO of the World Resources Institute and others for a high-level discussion on the latest initiatives and best practices aiding today’s forests.
Mental health and early childhood development
New on the agenda of this year’s spring meetings are some notable topics that some advocates feel haven’t gotten their fair share of attention in global development. On Wednesday, Kim and World Health Organization Director-General Margaret Chan will come together for a discussion with other prominent panelists on mental health and the investments it requires.
The ongoing refugee crisis, the aftermath of the Ebola epidemic and the persistence of conflicts around the globe have helped push mental health issues to the forefront of discussion. According to the World Bank, 350 million people around the world are affected by depression alone.
In addition to mental health, early childhood development will feature as a prime topic. UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake, the World Bank president and others will discuss how investments in the social protection, health, nutrition and education of young children matter for economic growth and poverty reduction.
Michelle Obama and Bill Gates
Some big names will have their voices heard at the spring meetings. U.S. first lady Michelle Obama will join Kim on Wednesday for a discussion on educating and empowering young girls. And to close off the meetings on Sunday, Bill Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, will join the World Bank president, U.K. Secretary of State for International Development Justine Greening and others for a conversation on financing development.
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