Late last week, Britain’s ministers of finance and foreign affairs announced their recommendation that the World Bank take a “nature-friendly approach” by limiting financial support for coal, oil and gas, instead funneling those dollars toward support of alternative forms of energy. If accepted, this well-intentioned recommendation will have an absolutely unfair disparate impact on underdeveloped nations. Africa will be at a particular disadvantage, as it sits atop oil and gas wealth that it is only now beginning to properly exploit.
The true impact of this initiative can best be seen through a global perspective that includes under-developed nations, rather than focusing on environmental benefits reaped by already industrialized nations. Industrialized countries simultaneously have been the biggest benefactors of cheap energy, and the biggest contributors to the environmental degradation it has caused. Only from their comfortable perch over developing or under-developed nations can they afford this newly discovered environmental ethos.
Developing countries are simply not in the same position. They cannot afford to worry about their contributions to greenhouse gas when they have more urgent basic domestic development needs in front of them, like infrastructure and the pressing need to power a continent of over a billion people where more than half have no access to reliable electricity. While PowerAfrica’s investments in green projects provide glimpses of a future where Africa creates abundant alternative energy, no suitable alternative to oil and gas exploitation for Africa has been provided to address the immediate demand for power.
The World Bank exists to financially assist countries in need of substantial finance for major infrastructure. How can an initiative with a primary objective that aims to take funding away from the very countries that need it the most still live up to the World Bank’s foundational purpose?
If this initiative moves forward as recommended, the benefits will be one-sided, soothing the guilty environmental conscience of some while depriving Africans of the urgent need for power.