BRIC leadership and the environment: a dilemma?

An interesting recent article by Environment and Energy Publishing outlines a dilemma for environmentalists advocating for change at the World Bank. Green groups have long-called for a more democratic institution that genuinely addresses both poverty and environmental destruction in developing countries, and have often been prominent in arguing against the archaic convention that sees the US president appoint the Bank’s leader. But, on the other hand many environmentalists acknowledge that any potential candidate from the BRICs may put less of an emphasis on environmental issues than the US. It states that:

When it comes to fossil fuels, for example, China, India and Brazil have emerged as the staunchest opponents of limiting energy options for developing countries.

The argument is that for the BRICs economic development is paramount, and environmental concerns could potentially be a mere afterthought. The article quotes former US Treasury official and now academic Billy Pizer:

If you make the assumption that the nationality of the president is somehow going to have some preference for the perspective of his nation, then it’s hard to see how a president from a developing country would have the same enthusiasm for directing the bank in a more environmentally friendly direction at the expense of development.

Justin Guay of Sierra Club observes that:

The clear problem on coal at the institution right now is China and India. There’s no hiding that fact. And the U.S. has in the past been a champion on safeguards, while the countries that want money from the bank want as little safeguards as possible. You can not discount the incredibly important role the U.S. government and the northern governments have played in protecting the environment at these institutions.

At the same time Guay also points out that many middle-income countries are far ahead of developed countries in deploying clean energy, and Southern leadership at the Bank could see “could pave the way for greater ambition from the south, which would match what many of these folks are doing in country”. Manish Bapna of the World Resources Institute also notes that “Any developing country that had a credible shot at winning confirmation to the World Bank would be relatively progressive on these issues”.

The Bank has for decades faced constant criticism that its wider portfolio is responsible for largescale environmental damage. From clearing rainforest for palm oil to sponsoring coal power, the Bank’s investments have done serious damage to its reputation amongst green groups. Under Robert Zoellick the institution has tried to position itself as a ‘green bank’, but any new president will have their work cut out for them to turn this rhetoric into reality. Would a leader from an emerging economy meet this challenge? What would a ‘green bank’ under Southern leadership look like? Readers, lets hear your ruminations.