WASHINGTON -- The World Bank is still failing to take climate change into account as it makes decisions about the projects it finances, according to a new report from the nonprofit World Resources Institute. The impacts of climate change were only taken into consideration in a quarter of all projects the bank approved between January 2012 and June 2013.
World Resources Institute looked at a selection of projects that would reasonably be expected to undergo some sort of climate impact assessment. The World Bank has in recent years put a greater emphasis on climate change under its new president, Dr. Jim Yong Kim, and argued in a landmark 2013 report that climate change "could seriously undermine poverty alleviation in many regions." But as WRI's report finds, 75 percent of projects still include no assessment of climate risks.
For 88 percent of projects, there was no examination of their likely contribution to greenhouse gas emissions. The Bank has been dinged for its continued involvement in projects that support coal-fired power plants, for example.
WRI found that a few of the projects the World Bank invested in would help countries adapt to the impacts of climate change, but said those projects "were the exception rather than the rule."
"The reality is, climate considerations are still something that has yet to make its way into the operational considerations they make," said Clifford Polycarp, deputy director of the sustainable finance program at WRI.
One example included in the report is an emergency infrastructure renewal project that the Bank supported in Cote d’Ivoire that would rehabilitate urban drainage systems and provide flood protections. The WRI report notes that while this seems like an area where future climate impacts should be taken into account, "the project design documents did not include any assessments that could shed light on the project area's vulnerability to climate change."
The report also cites an urban infrastructure project in China's Qingyang municipality that would construct and rehabilitate drainage and sewage systems. Report co-author Milap Patel notes that the appraisal documents for that project "are characterized by a complete lack of attention to climate change and its possible impacts."
Climate change is believed to pose a major risk to already vulnerable populations, and the report warns that the "impacts of climate change could derail countries' progress toward sustainable development."
The report proposes specific actions the Bank could take to improve its assessments of climate risks and other environmental and social concerns. For climate-related risks associated with a given project, the report suggests an assessment of the project's anticipated greenhouse gas emissions, an analysis of ways to cut the project's emissions, and consideration of potential alternatives that would produce lower greenhouse gases, among other steps.
While there is a directive from the head of the World Bank to consider climate change in its projects, Polycarp said that the incentives that drive decision-making at the regional and operational levels still don't prioritize climate. Nevertheless, Polycarp added that under its new climate policy director, Dr. Karin Kemper, the Bank has been starting to put in place new tools and processes for factoring climate into its initiatives.
A World Bank spokesman said that the Bank "welcomes constructive input on the work that we do."
"The WRI report is a useful contribution to our increased efforts to factor in climate change across our project portfolio. In this regard, we are making important progress," said the spokesman, adding that starting in July, the Bank will require all new projects funded by the International Development Association, its division that funds the world's poorest countries, to be screened for short- and long-term climate risks. The Bank is also introducing a greenhouse gas accounting program "that will, within a couple of years, cover all projects in all sectors," said the spokesman.
The WRI's president and CEO, Andrew Steer, joined the nonprofit from the World Bank, where he had served as the Bank's special envoy for climate change from 2010 to 2012. In an introduction to the report, Steer notes that there have been "missed opportunities to address climate impacts."
But he signaled optimism about the Bank's ability to shift. "The World Bank's willingness to adapt and experiment has been its historical strength," wrote Steer. "We are confident it will address the climate challenge with the same innovative spirit."