Promise-breaking at the World Bank, Part 2: After

If you want a world without poverty or species-threatening climate change, then let’s fast-forward a bit, to the point World Bank President Jim Yong Kim breaks your heart by endorsing what remains the world’s worst financial coal-addiction (http://www.brettonwoodsproject.org/art.shtml?x=569967), which in turn is required to power the world’s most active financing of Resource-Curse economics in some of the world’s most despotic regimes (http://www.brettonwoodsproject.org/art-569560).

Looking back, you could say that the relationship went sour with Kim’s approval, in mid-2012, of WB credits for a Kosovo coal-fired power plant everyone admits isn’t even economically efficient (http://www.brettonwoodsproject.org/art-568872) yet will poison the air near the capital city. (http://www.brettonwoodsproject.org/art-569226)

Then Kim quickly approved more tranches of WB’s biggest-ever loan, to the corrupted South African government for its fraud-filled Medupi power plant, along with more financing for the hotly contested Indian coal-fired power plants that his sponsor Tim Geithner (Dartmouth class of ’83) at Treasury has also been supporting through the US Ex-Im Bank. And before long he was down the slippery slope into funding one killer coal-fired power plant after the next.

How can that be, you’re asking, because not only is Kim a medical doctor. Less than two weeks after receiving the WB presidential nomination, in early April he renamed the medical school at Dartmouth after Dr Seuss (the “Geisel School of Medicine”) – to be sure, merely because before his death, Geisel (class of ’25) and his wife gave more money to Dartmouth than anyone else ever did. Fibbed Kim at that event, “Ted Geisel lived out the Dartmouth ethos (sic) of thinking differently and creatively to illuminate the world’s challenges and the opportunities for understanding and surmounting them.”

In contrast to Dartmouth Man, cartoonist/author Geisel was a genius of allegory, especially in relation to environmental conservation. (Thanks to my three year old daughter, I know this very well.) The best-loved work by Dr Seuss these days is The Lorax, a major motion picture in which the self-destructive Once-ler character cuts down all the Truffula trees for his obscure and useless Thneeds factory, notwithstanding prescient pleadings from the near-extinct Lorax. Filmmakers updated Geisel’s tale insofar as Once-ler (standing in for capitalism) promotes a silver-bullet solution (seeds) to the exhausted-resource crisis. It’s the same fantasy that motivates a great deal of WB agro-corporate and climate techie-fix research and investment.

(For the sake of full disclosure, not long before Kim arrived, I was flown in to Hanover to address Dartmouth environmentalists on the perils of carbon trading – http://ccs.ukzn.ac.za/files/Bond%20climate%20change%20paper.pdf – and had a marvellous time, especially with several staff and students with whom today I still work. Like Geisel, there are always exceptions at sites like Dartmouth.)

Which quickly brings us to the link between ecological catastrophe and human health, one that WB has in theory recognised and in practice mainly ignored.

Kim is by all accounts an eminent medical doctor with a terrific track record of public health management and advocacy, especially against AIDS. I write from the city with the world’s largest HIV+ population so we will always be grateful for Kim’s role in cheapening AIDS medicines against the interests of Big Pharma, the World Trade Organisation, intellectual property rights, and the US and Mbeki-era South African governments.

So how will he react, when just weeks from now he is faced with the greatest problem WB ever created – greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel energy – by being the world’s largest single climate-change financier? Kim’s new WB underlings are, after all, incessant creditors of new coal-fired powerplants, including their largest project loan ever, for $3.5 billion, which was made to South Africa to build Eskom’s Medupi plant exactly two years ago. (http://ccs.ukzn.ac.za/files/WB%20Eskom%20powerpoint%20slides.pdf)

After the tragedy of Obama, Kim could well be a farce: someone who co-edited the great book Dying for Growth yet who must actively ignore data (from Christian Aid in London) projecting 185 million African deaths in the 21st century due to ‘growth’ that in turn creates runaway climate change, not to mention the vast number of coal-related diseases he will now be blamed for. Yet this is precisely what multinational capital requires of Kim: a revitalised image to help raise $85 billion for WB’s recapitalisation, which will in turn keep financing, amongst other eco-social-economic catastrophies, coal-fired powerplants and their carbon market fake-fix at a time both are in extreme disrepute.

But why be so cynical before Kim has a chance? It’s simply a matter of considering the underlying power relations. Recall in December 2008, Obama chose for his economic team maniacs like Paul Volcker (http://www.counterpunch.org/2008/11/12/against-volcker/) and Larry Summers (http://www.naomiklein.org/articles/2009/04/why-we-should-banish-larry-summers-public-life). Because US civil society let the pressure completely off Obama, so early, it took another thirty months before finally Occupy Wall Street and similar uprisings across the US began, but after the fiscal horse had bolted from democratic influence into the endless stables of financial tyrant Goldman Sachs.

Kim will be firmly instructed to respect the prevailing culture, for it’s in corporate capital’s short-term interest to both extract and burn the maximum amount of fossil fuels, especially in the death-grip competitive era in which Western transnational corporates are being challenged by Chinese and Indian corporates in a race to most rapidly destroy the planet. The Westerners are pulling out all the stops, and it is only possible to understand the appointment of Kim in the context of petro-military-financial complex influence over capital accumulation.

Flash back to those dozen years after the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, when financial penalties for emissions appeared to become more likely, albeit channelled by WB, UN and Goldman Sachs cronies into what we can term without exaggeration The Lorax-style ‘privatisation of the air’ (carbon trading). Towards the end of that period, we witnessed a big climate-denialist push from leading oil firms – BP, Shell, Chevron and ExxonMobil – through thinktanks and astroturf advocacy such as the Global Climate Coalition.

The disinfo marketing worked from 2009-11, for it switched typically vacuous US public opinion away from a desire to solve the climate crisis – ideally through a solution like the Montreal Protocol which in 1987 phased in a CFC ban to stop the ozone hole from growing – into a different headspace: either questioning the science, or preferring to simply ignore the signs of climate change, and the implications for rising global environmental injustice.

Instead of addressing the crisis, corporate capital decided to promote – with world taxpayers covering the bill – a variety of ‘false solutions.’ If these happen in Third World sites like South Africa, they are termed Clean Development Mechanisms (CDMs). The WB is still the leading force in financing these innovations, even as the European carbon markets in which CDMs are sold are now crashing to all-time lows, from highs of over 30 euros/tonne in 2006 down to just over 6 euros/tonne in early April, thus threatening the entire carbon casino with a fatal crash.

How brutal a contradiction is this for Kim? If activists can keep the pressure on, he will be increasingly embarrassed at maintaining WB’s fossil fuel portfolio, for scientists have been establishing explicit links between climate change and what former Bolivian ambassador to the UN Pablo Solon termed ‘genocide and ecocide’ at the Durban COP17 climate summit here last December.

http://www.ipcc.ch/publications_and_data/ar4/wg2/en/ch8s8-7.html

Even using a word like genocide, Solon was not being in the least hyperbolic. The main scientific board – the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – considers a variety of adverse healthcare effects of climate change, including higher levels of malnutrition, malaria, respiratory disease, diarrhoea, and deaths due to extreme weather conditions. And the World Health Organisation admits the burdens of climate-related disease are already unfairly distributed, with Southern and Eastern Africa, small islands and areas reliant upon snow-packed water supplies (from the Andes and Himalayas) most susceptible. Like so many sites in which Kim and Partners in Health have worked, environmental health and economic racism overlap closely.

In coming weeks, Kim should be acutely ashamed of presiding over WB’s extreme coal-heavy portfolio, given that three Environmental Defense Fund scientists – Sarah Penney, Jacob Bell and John Balbus – recently found that “between roughly 6000 and 10,700 annual deaths from heart ailments, respiratory disease and lung cancer can be attributed to the 88 coal-fired power plants and companies receiving public international financing.” (http://www.edf.org/sites/default/files/9553_coal-plants-health-impacts.pdf)

And writing in Geotimes on “Health Impacts of Coal,” three other scientists – Robert B. Finkelman, Harvey E. Belkin, and Jose A. Centeno – observe the rise in cancers, bone deformation, black lung and other respiratory diseases, sterilization, and kidney disease associated with coal. (http://www.geotimes.org/sept06/feature_HealthImpacts.html) They illustrate their argument with a photograph describing a place that, ultimately, supplies me my electricity: “Uncontrolled coal fires in Witbank, South Africa, rage along a coal mining road. Such fires can contain toxic compounds that endanger the health of mine workers and nearby residents.”

Much of Witbank’s output is used in Eskom’s power plants, but four corporations (AngloCoal, BHP Billiton, Eyesizwe and the world’s largest mining house, Xstrata/Glencore) also export via the world’s largest coal port, Richards Bay. Yet more output from the vast field is shipped a few dozen kilometres south to Secunda, where it feeds the world’s single largest CO2 emissions site, Sasol’s coal-to-liquid plant.

Forty major new coal mines are being dug in this area to supply growing world demand. Along with higher corporate profits and faster climate change, we can expect more of Witbank’s notorious health problems, including stunted growth of children, silicosis, other lung and respiratory diseases and mining fatalities, according to shocking research by Victor Munnik, Geraldine Hochmann and Mathews Hlabane (http://www.bothends.org/uploaded_files/2case_study_South_Africa.pdf).

These are the same coalfields that will supply Medupi, in spite of fierce opposition and evident corruption by the borrower. The immediate debtor is the much-hated SA parastatal company Eskom, whose chairperson Valli Moosa engaged in what is scathingly called ‘tenderpreneurship’ to direct (through tenders) WB resources into boilers made by Hitachi, in whose local subsidiary South Africa’s ruling party – the African National Congress (ANC) – has a 25 percent ownership. Because Moosa was on the ANC’s finance committee at the time, even the state’s public protector ruled his role to be ‘improper.’

In spite of that, a CDM team from the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) voted in February 2012 to make Moosa head of a panel looking into future CDM policy. Under Moosa’s reign, Eskom threatened it would apply for CDM monies to augment WB financing for Medupi, but that conflict of interest hasn’t worried the UNFCCC neoliberals, since the body is presided over by a notorious carbon trader, Christiana Figueres, and since the team Moosa is chairing does not have a single member on record questioning the failed carbon trading strategy.

(By the way, the Medupi boilers are not being produced on time because Hitachi screwed up, so there are now renewed threats of electricity blackouts in South Africa, where Eskom still gives BHP Billiton the world’s cheapest electricity – $0.02 per kWh compared to $0.15 for most domestic households – with the firm chewing up more than 10 percent of the national supply, so as to export aluminium whose main ingredient, bauxite, is imported to Richards Bay from Australia. If you buy many of our base metals within South Africa, you pay a higher price than do customers abroad, given the big companies’ oligopolistic pricing power, a debilitating fact that the SA Competition Tribunal finally recognised last week when penalising Arcelor Mittal for domestic price-fixing.)

WB appears to revel in this sort of economically-irrational, crony-capitalist, back-scratching, health-defying, climate-amplifying, mega-corporate complex of bad states and big business. Were there justice and a modicum of countervailing power or morality within crusty old WB’s hardened soul, this travesty would be reversed. The (ir)responsible WB bankers, economists and environmental consultants would be fired and banned from ever lending again, and reparations would be paid. (I debated one of these charlatans, Bill Moomaw from Tufts University, the day after the Medupi loan was made – http://openmediaboston.org/node/1250 – and as a result, can only recommend the application of an academic malpractice standard.)

Instead, last month, the WB’s Inspection Panel whitewash team issued a milquetoast report on Medupi, ignoring or downplaying all the major problems.

So it is safe to predict that without a change in the power balance, Kim will nudge-nudge, wink-wink these kinds of WB projects, precisely the way he did the Dartmouth hazing, and the haze in the Witbank air will get thicker, as the size of children’s heads shrinks and the diseases in their lungs grow. Through Dr Kim, a health-caring WB image will be created while substantive support to progressive health initiatives will be stymied. And it is controversial yet safe to predict that Kim will soon be hated by a public health community that currently adores him for his excellent career to date.

As Finkelman, Belkin, and Centeno point out, “In the 13th century, the dense, sulfurous air in London attracted the attention of the British royalty who issued proclamations banning the use of coal in London.” But to get Kim to catch up to eight-century old preventative healthcare will be impossible given the balance of forces amongst Third World elites in sites like South Africa, within the fossil-addicted WB itself, and a few blocks away at the White House and Treasury where mega-energy interests hold enormous sway.

The point here is not that the WB should become more involved in healthcare, for after all, it’s a bank, full of bankers and dogmatic neoliberal economists who continue to practice their craft unshaken by the events of 2008-09. To lend hard currency to poor countries – money often hijacked by venal elite rulers – so as to support public health, is financially ridiculous. The successful demand by African health advocates to halt WB lending to poor countries to buy overpriced AIDS medicines a decade ago is one reflection of this common sense.

As Jois Mukherjee of Kim’s group Partners in Health put it in the journal HIV+ in mid-2001, “More World Bank loans are definitely not going to help. We’re firmly against – and I think most of the activist community is against – loans as a major funding source for the HIV epidemic. It can’t be the major source of funding because these are countries that can’t afford the debt payments they already have. These areas are in need of debt relief, not more loans.” (http://books.google.co.za/books?id=ZmUEAAAAMBAJ&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false )

Instead, what are required from world elites are fewer Intellectual Property Rights restrictions on Third World countries producing vitally-needed medicines that are now threatened by Washington-Brussels-Geneva free-trade pressure and by multinational corporate takeovers of Indian firms; more R&D on Third World diseases instead of the best medical brains being used for so much wasteful cosmetic healthcare; and more grants from Northerners who are the people most responsible for the climate-related fatalities that in Africa will probably exceed 200 million range within the next century. (http://www.southcentre.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=1695%3Asb60&catid=144%3Asouth-bulletin-individual-articles&Itemid=287&lang=en)

That ‘climate debt’ must be paid, and although Hilary Clinton offered $100 billion/year from the North during the Copenhagen COP17 in December 2009, this was a promise she apparently meant to break, as it was offered only to ease pressure on Obama who arrived there the following day. The recipient of the grants, the Green Climate Fund, is being designed (partly by South African Trevor Manuel) as a ‘Greedy Corporate Fund,’ as NGO critics call it. It is currently under the WB trusteeship of Zoellick, who after taking over from his nepotistic predecessor, the war criminal Paul Wolfowitz, in 2007, rapidly tripled WB lending for coal projects. Clinton hasn’t paid a cent, as her team repeatedly goes to the UN climate summits with one aim in mind, sabotage. (http://www.ukznpress.co.za/?class=bb_ukzn_books&method=view_books&global[fields][_id]=395)

The single best example of such a grant mechanism, according to the trusted advocacy group Health GAP, is the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. After intense struggles to launch the fund a decade ago, it has subsequently channelled nearly $23 billion into 150 countries, saving millions of lives.

However by now it was meant to have raised its capacity up to $10 billion in annual grants. But in continuing the isolationist policy of predecessor George W. Bush, Obama maintains funding at only half what is needed, failing to locate the $1 billion per year that the Global Fund requires to even maintain existing levels. So huge cuts – 25 percent or more – in vital projects are already underway, leaving South Africa’s AIDS treatment and funding-dependent Treatment Action Campaign movement in tatters. Recent estimates of the cost of the Bush-Obama banking sector bailout now approach $30 trillion.

Patrick Bond directs the UKZN Centre for Civil Society (http://ccs.ukzn.ac.za), which on Wednesday hosts a debate on the Bank presidency

One thought on “Promise-breaking at the World Bank, Part 2: After

  1. I’m curious then what you make of Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s comments yesterday at the Center for Global Development in which she clearly said that she believes the World Bank should continue to fund coal plants — not just for the poorest countries, but for middle-income countries as well. Asked if she believes the World Bank should eliminate coal financing, she replied that the World Bank should “not shy away” from lending for coal, but rather should seek to help countries choose cleaner options and use technology to make coal plants more efficient. (ClimateWire story is subscription-based, but I’m happy to email it directly if anyone wants to see: http://www.eenews.net/climatewire/2012/04/10/6)

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