World Bank! Coal is Expensive, and It Kills People

by Kyle Ash

March 1, 2011

coal free future

Today people across the planet are telling the World Bank to stop funding coal! You can help by posting a message on the World Bank’s Facebook page.

You can also comment on the World Bank’s blog, or Tweet @WorldBank using the hashtag #WBDayOfAction. Here are some sample messages you can use:

Calling on @WorldBank to ‘Free Us From #fossil fuels’#WBDayOfAction


@WorldBank quit coal! Be pro-poor, pro-climate, pro-planet #WBDayOfAction

A recently published Harvard study estimates that coal costs Americans about half a trillion dollars on top of the cost of electricity, when you count all the costs directly attributed to impacts from mining, transporting, and burning that dirty rock. Wind and solar are already fast becoming cheaper than coal without these added costs, while governments continue to pay our money to poison us with coal.

Insanely, US taxpayers subsidize the fossil fuel industry, with coal getting directly with at least $3 to $5 billion per year. We provide coal companies like Peabody with awesome tax breaks, we provide money directly for the building of coal-fired power plants, and we provide loan guarantees to coal companies to research how to keep coal around forever. Americans also subsidize the coal industry by giving money to the World Bank, which has helped finance 88 coal plants since the UN climate talks began in 1994. We spend so much money on this poisonous rock that no one even knows how much we actually spend.

It may be a crazy talk to say that highfalutin, trickle-down zealots can be turned en masse by arguments of ecological economists (like former Bank employee Herman Daly), but I can say that there is some hope the Bank will bring its carbon footprint more in line with sustainable economic development.

Due in part to more weight being given by donor countries to ‘fund’ than ‘green,’ the Bank will be an interim trustee of the Green Climate Fund (GCF) that was established at the climate talks in Cancun. The GCF is likely going to be the vehicle for disbursing the $100 billion committed by wealthy countries for financing efforts in developing countries to adapt to climate change and reduce carbon pollution. The World Bank controlled many of the existing international funds used for climate, such as the Climate Investment Funds. The GCF could be the most resourced climate fund as well as key to achieving an international agreement on climate that includes the United States – therefore the Bank has more reason to at least act like it wants to be responsible on climate.

As it happens, the World Bank is undergoing a review and rewrite of its policies that guide its energy lending. This review happens once a decade. Like we did in the past with nuclear energy, we are telling the Bank to put coal on the chopping block, and focus on renewables. Thanks to World Bank loans, two of the largest coal-fired power plants ever built will be spewing carbon dioxide from South Africa and India for decades to come. This is a disaster for the planet and it is going to destroy water resources and clean air for poor people. These coal plants are catering to large-scale polluting industry, not to helping people pull themselves up by their bootstraps. The South Africa coal plant loan is a part of a 137% rate hike on average South Africans who already have energy access (the plant won’t increase access either) – while large multinationals already pay about 1/7 the cost and are assured the world’s cheapest rates due to Apartheid-era sweetheart deals.

Ultimately, the World Bank has self-serving reasons to stop funding coal. Because of the global recession and greater demand for new lending, the Bank requested that member countries contribute new money to its coffers. This ‘general capital increase,’ as it‘s called, has been approved by every donor country except the US who holds a 16% stake (twice as large as the next highest donor). Fortunately for the planet, many members of Congress who would vote to provide money for the Bank are the same members who don’t want to spend billions of dollars we don’t have on coal welfare just to make ourselves sick. 

The Bank has a far less than savory record when it comes to energy lending not to mention developing country debt. Yet the Bank’s central mandate is supposed to be poverty alleviation. Many economists, other academics and social movements argue that the World Bank has left developing countries worse off, in part by coercing countries to invest less in policies that grease the wheels of economic development: public health, economic empowerment, and basic education. It’s time for the Bank to redeem itself. The World Bank must stop funding coal.

Kyle Ash

By Kyle Ash

Kyle Ash formerly served as Greenpeace's Legislative Policy Expert, responsible for domestic and international climate change policy analysis and campaign strategy. He has been quoted in Politico, Greenwire, the New York Times, and CNN, and was one of the most frequently quoted sources during the Copenhagen Climate Conference.

We Need Your Voice. Join Us!

Want to learn more about tax-deductible giving, donating stock and estate planning?

Visit Greenpeace Fund, a nonprofit, 501(c)(3) charitable entity created to increase public awareness and understanding of environmental issues through research, the media and educational programs.