Victory: World Bank Announces It Will Stop Financing Oil and Gas in 2019

children drink from contaminated river
Children try to get a drink of clean water downstream from a World Bank-financed coal-fired power plant. The river is contaminated by fly-ash dumped in the river.

Twenty years ago, I founded the Sustainable Energy & Economy Network (SEEN) at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, DC, to tackle the role that the World Bank and other major development banks and export credit agencies were playing in financing fossil fuels–investments that were harming, not helping the poorest, while destabilizing the global climate. Our first report, which I co-authored with Jim Vallette, at the Institute for Policy Studies, was entitled, “World Bank and G-7: Changing the Earth’s Climate for Business.” We catalogued the billions of dollars the World Bank was investing in fossil fuels, despite pledges to the global community to invest in renewables. We were sounding the alarm for two reasons: We wanted to avoid technological lock-in by countless developing countries in fossil fuel infrastructure—a lock-in that could prove catastrophic to our planet. And we knew that the World Bank had been tasked by the United Nations in 1992 to do the opposite—to invest in renewable energy and guide the world toward a sustainable development strategy for the world’s poor.

That report kicked off a firestorm. First, the World Bank denied our report’s findings. Then they decided they would do their own review of their fossil fuel investments, The Extractive Industries Review, which not only proved our findings correct, but reiterated our call to get out of fossil fuels. So the World Bank did what it does best: It said it would produce yet another report, calling for inaction. It was inaction that the World Bank Board of Directors chose in 2004.

We fumed, we protested, we condemned them in the press, we spoke at hearings, we held citizens’ tribunals, we organized marches.

Finally, in 2013, upon urging from President Obama, the World Bank blinked. They said they would get out “most forms of coal-fired power.” While this was welcome news, why, we asked, did the oil and gas industry need ANY support from a public institution like the World Bank? So the campaign to get them out of all fossil fuels continued.

Now, today, 20 years later, we got word of a major victory: The World Bank pledged to get out of all upstream oil and gas investments. By 2019. Why not now? Why 2019? We think, if they take the climate science seriously, and the Paris Accords to heart, they should stop funding ALL fossil fuel projects. Immediately. Not in 2018. Not in 2019. Now. We have no time to lose.

While our victory is not complete, it is a MAJOR victory nonetheless. And so we celebrate. We never could have done it without our allies all around the world. You know who you are. Thank you. The planet thanks you.

The work I started in DC in 1997, now continues under CSE–as our Climate Justice Program fights and wins battles to bring an end to all new fossil fuel infrastructure here at home. Please support our work so we can keep winning battles like these.

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