Worldbank comes with CO2-emissions initiative

Jul 14, 1997 02:00 AM

June 26, 1997 World Bank President James Wolfensohn told the UN General Assembly that progress to halt global warming has been inadequate and that his agency will seek the creation of a new investment fund to reduce carbon emissions. "Continued global warming is in nobody's interest, but the simple facts of the matter are that developing countries will suffer the most damage, and their poor will be at an even greater disadvantage," Wolfensohn said.
Saying that it is essential for countries to agree to strict reductions in greenhouse gases at a meeting on the topic in Kyoto this December, Wolfensohn suggested that industrialised nations should be able to purchase credits in climate control from developing countries. Industrialised nations would therefore not need to lower carbon emissions themselves, but would pay for the commensurate lowering of greenhouse gas levels in the South. He said that, if the Kyoto convention agreed, the World Bank would be willing to set up a Carbon Investment Fund to help that aim.
"Under this voluntary mechanism, which need not imply aggregate emission limitations for developing countries, tens of billions of dollars could be saved annually by 2010," Wolfensohn said. That year is the target date by which the European Union intends to reduce the North's CO2 emissions by 15 % from 1990 levels. By using credits, the World Bank chief told, some of the burden of reducing the gases linked to global warming could be shifted to poorer nations, where the costs associated with such reductions could be cheaper. But he cautioned that if the benefits of such a plan are not fairly split between North and South, the perception that the credits would be "dumping developed countries' problems on developing countries" could make the plan unworkable.
He told the Assembly that he realised the issue was a politically sensitive one. It remains so thorny that Wolfensohn later conceded that while he has had talks with about a dozen Southern countries about the possibility of reducing carbon emissions in exchange for money or technology from the North, he could not announce any names.
The World Bank is also involved in a new initiative on the other controversial issue being discussed at this week's special environmental session of the General Assembly: deforestation. Wolfensohn announced that the World Bank would join forces with the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) to set up a network of protected forests, comprising 10 % of the world's major forest types by the year 2000. The two organisations also agreed to help manage 100 million hectares each of both temperate and tropical forests by 2005. "This is not a pie-in-the-sky objective," Wolfensohn said. "This is something that we've worked on."

WWF hailed the alliance as a major shift in the Bank's work on the environment. "It's very rare for the Bank to do a major alliance with a non-governmental organisation," said Don Henry, director of WWF's global forest program. Now, he argued, the World Bank was not merely determining what environmentally harmful programs should be avoided, but it was pushing positive forest management practices with "very concrete targets" for improvements. The forests that the two organisations are looking at for initial protected-area programs include rainforests in the Congo Basin, the Amazon, and New Guinea, and the boreal forests of Russia and China, Henry said. Twenty governments have committed so far to the WWF's Forests for Life campaign. The most recent addition to the list of committed governments is China, which signed on to the campaign as the Assembly meeting began on June 23.

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