Capitalists against development

The private sector lending arm of the World Bank is keen to stress its support for sustainable development. What's in it for them?

Joe Kaplinsky

Topics Politics

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Once again, environmentalists have trashed development. But the environmentalists in question are not the May Day anti-capitalist protesters, but the capitalists at the International Finance Corporation – the private sector lending arm of the World Bank.

According to documents (1) leaked to the Washington-based environmental NGO the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) (2), the Bank sees a ‘clear and present danger’ arising from its investments in oil, gas, and mining. In particular, it is worried about the ‘inherent sustainability’ of these industries and ‘compelling evidence of accelerating global warming’.

Agribusiness, and infrastructure such as roads and ports, are also targeted as unsustainable. Even financial services are seen as a potentially problematic area in which ‘we just don’t know the impact and have little leverage’.

The IPS is well pleased with the World Bank’s outlook. ‘We welcome the recognition of the “clear and present danger” posed to people and the environment wherever the World Bank has backed massive oil, gas, and mining projects’, said Daphne Wysham of IPS. ‘This memo shows the Bank understands such investments contradict its mandate of sustainable development and poverty alleviation.’ (3)

Whether the global poor will be as enthusiastic about the World Bank enforcing this new Washington Consensus remains to be seen. It clearly suits the West to hold down the share of production consumed by the poor and to eliminate possible future competition – precisely the policy adopted by the World Bank.

The congruence between this agenda and the rhetoric of ‘sustainable development’ should serve as a warning to rich and poor alike.

Read on:

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(1) See leaked World Bank documents

(2) Institute for Policy Studies website

(3) World Bank documents

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Topics Politics


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