UK-based global relief and advocacy agency Christian Aid is urging international development secretary Andrew Mitchell to use his position on the board of the World Bank to press for an end to investment in carbon-intensive energy projects.
World Bank funding for coal-fired power stations, which produce massive carbon emissions that contribute to climate change, has soared 40-fold over the past five years to hit a record $4.4bn (£2.8bn) in 2010.
It is at present reviewing its energy policies and, says Christian Aid, must be persuaded to clean up its act.
Reform is urgent in the face of the bank emerging as the front runner at the UN climate change summit in Cancun, Mexico last month to administer the Green Climate Fund, worth potentially a $100bn (£65bn) to provide climate finance to the poorest countries by 2020.
Christian Aid senior climate policy adviser Dr Alison Doig said: "Mr Mitchell must use his position to urge a fundamental rethink of World Bank energy policies. Unless it changes, it is completely unsuited to act as a conduit for climate change funds."
She continued: "At present, the bank’s billions prop up dirty energy production across the developing world, fuelling climate change while locking poor countries into outdated, destructive ways of producing energy."
As secretary of state, Mr Mitchell has a seat on the board of the bank’s financial institutions, with a significant vote on how they are run and the money spent. (The UK holds 3.75 per cent of the vote, equal to France. Larger voting shares are held by the US, Japan, China and Germany).
Pre-election, Mr Mitchell was a keen advocate of low-carbon growth, saying in November 2009: "There is much we can do to help promote low-carbon growth, and to help spread new technologies. But we should ‘first do no harm’. Unfortunately, under Labour, British taxpayers money is being used to subsidise dirty fossil-fuel power stations."
Dr Doig said: "Mr Mitchell must live up to his earlier backing for low-carbon development. The World Bank is mandated to provide financial and technical assistance to developing countries to help them improve the lives and livelihoods of the world’s poorest. Instead, it does those living in poverty a double disservice."
She added: "Not only are deprived communities in the world’s poorest countries most vulnerable to the floods, storms, droughts and other disasters caused by climate change, they are unlikely to receive energy from World Bank-supported projects, which tend to favour industry and rich households."
The Christian Aid spokesperson said the present review was the perfect opportunity to press for the bank to put its billions into carbon-safe, clean ways of generating energy, such as solar and small-scale hydroelectric, and biomass projects which can deliver clean energy directly to poor people.
The World Bank should be in the vanguard of supporting sustainable and renewable energy sources which would help avert climate chaos, she said, while meeting the energy needs of poorer communities to help lift them out of poverty.
"More than 1.5 billion people in developing countries – around a quarter of the world’s population – have no access to electricity,’ she said. ‘This means nights without lights, limited access to radio and communications, no modern power for their work and no way to safely store food or medicines," declared Dr Doig.