MAC: Mines and Communities

World Bank advocates hydropower to square development with climate change

Published by MAC on 2013-05-13

But it's not abandoned it's backing of coal

Out of the fire and into the water pan?

Not quite, it would seem.

World Bank president, Kim Yong Kim, wants to boost "green" hydro power projects, in order to reduce global dependency on carbon-intensive energy sources.

However, this doesn't mean the Bank is getting out of coal.

No siree, says Mr Kim: "I would just love to never sign a coal project. We understand it is much, much dirtier, but . . . we have 188 members ... We have to be fair in balancing the needs of poor countries . . . with this other bigger goal of tackling climate change."

So, as reported by the Washington Post on 8th May: "Among the projects likely to cross Kim's desk in coming months...is a 600-megawatt power plant in Kosovo that would be fired by lignite coal, the bottom of the barrel when it comes to carbon emissions.

"The plant has strong backing from the United States, the World Bank's major shareholder. It also meshes with one of the bank's other long-standing imperatives: Give countries what they ask for."

One major new hydro project which the Bank is currently examining is a proposed network of dams around DR Congo's Inga Falls.

But, says the Washington Post: "Advocacy groups remain skeptical, arguing that [this] may be of more benefit to mining companies or industries in neighboring countries than poor communities struggling to recover from the country's civil war".

World Bank turns to hydropower to square development with climate change

Howard Schneider

The Washington Post

8 May 2013

The World Bank is making a major push to develop large-scale hydropower projects around the globe, something it had all but abandoned a decade ago but now sees as crucial to resolving the tension between economic development and the drive to tame carbon use.

Major hydropower projects in Congo, Zambia, Nepal and elsewhere - all of a scale dubbed "transformational" to the regions involved - are a focus of the bank's fundraising drive among wealthy nations. Bank lending for hydropower has scaled up steadily in recent years, and officials expect the trend to continue amid a worldwide boom in water-fueled electricity.

Such projects were shunned in the 1990s, in part because they can be disruptive to communities and ecosystems. But the World Bank is opening the taps for dams, transmission lines and related infrastructure as its president, Jim Yong Kim, tries to resolve a quandary at the bank's core: how to eliminate poverty while adding as little as possible to carbon emissions.

"Large hydro is a very big part of the solution for Africa and South Asia and Southeast Asia. . . . I fundamentally believe we have to be involved," said Rachel Kyte, the bank's vice president for sustainable development and an influential voice among Kim's top staff members. The earlier move out of hydro "was the wrong message. . . . That was then. This is now. We are back."

It is a controversial stand. The bank backed out of large-scale hydropower because of the steep trade-offs involved. Big dams produce lots of cheap, clean electricity, but they often uproot villages in dam-flooded areas and destroy the livelihoods of the people the institution is supposed to help. A 2009 World Bank review of hydro­power noted the "overwhelming environmental and social risks" that had to be addressed but also concluded that Africa and Asia's vast and largely undeveloped hydropower potential was key to providing dependable electricity to the hundreds of millions of people who remain without it.

"What's the one issue that's holding back development in the poorest countries? It's energy. There's just no question," Kim said in an interview.

Advocacy groups remain skeptical, arguing that large projects, such as Congo's long-debated network of dams around Inga Falls, may be of more benefit to mining companies or industries in neighboring countries than poor communities.

"It is the old idea of a silver bullet that can modernize whole economies," said Peter Bosshard, policy director of International Rivers, a group that has organized opposition to the bank's evolving hydro policy and argued for smaller projects designed around communities rather than mega-dams meant to export power throughout a region.

"Turning back to hydro is being anything but a progressive climate bank," said Justin Guay, a Sierra Club spokesman on climate and energy issues. "There needs to be a clear shift from large, centralized projects."

The major nations that support the World Bank, however, have been pushing it to identify such projects - complex undertakings that might happen only if an international organization is involved in sorting out the financing, overseeing the performance and navigating the politics.

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