Dear EarthTalk: The World Bank is often cast in a bad light by green groups and in the press. What are their eco-crimes, and are there any reforms in the making?

 
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Dear EarthTalk: The World Bank is often cast in a bad light by green groups and in the press. What are their eco-crimes, and are there any reforms in the making?--J. Bloch, Newark, NJ

Originally created to finance the rebuilding of Europe after World War II, the World Bank later took on a larger mandate to try to alleviate poverty around the world. Unfortunately, many of the Bank's policies and practices in intervening years clashed with conservation priorities. But the more recent onslaught of global warming threats, along with greater overall public environmental awareness, has forced the World Bank to factor sustainability concerns into how it encourages development moving forward.

According to the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS), a non-profit think tank, the World Bank has been widely criticized for funding a series of environmentally damaging projects in the 1980s, including the building of dams on the Narmada River in India, road building into the Brazilian Amazon and transmigration (re-settlement) efforts in Indonesia. "These projects have led to a variety of adverse impacts in borrower countries, including deforestation and displacement of indigenous peoples," reports the group.

In response to the criticism, the World Bank adopted a set of policies and procedures in the late 1980s to better assess the potential adverse environmental impacts of its projects. The Bank further developed a series of polices to guide investment in such areas as forestry and energy. "For example, the bank's forestry policy prohibits the institution from financing logging in primary tropical forests," adds IPS.

Other highlights of the Bank's first round of greening included the creation of a special unit to oversee environmentally and socially sustainable development, and the recruitment of staff with technical environmental credentials to...

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