The Myth of the Green Bank: Climate Justice, Gender Justice and the World Bank

We know the world is hurtling towards catastrophic climate change, but there is still time to shift course. In many places, especially in the Global South, the effects of the climate crisis are already evident—and women are paying the heaviest price. What’s worse, the year 2010 saw the largest ever recorded spike in carbon emissions. 


World leaders have had multiple opportunities to come together and agree on an effective strategy to curb climate change. But little progress has been made. Most leaders of industrialized countries remain oblivious to the laws of nature, creating policies that promote infinite consumption of finite resources.


These are the economic policies that have dominated the practices of international financial institutions like the World Bank. These have had devastating effects on developing countries, with a disproportionate impact on women.


The global movement for economic justice is expanding rapidly. People have begun to stand up against economic policies that favor the rich, drive unemployment, impoverish women and their families and propel climate change. In the search for alternatives, grassroots women hold vital yet under-recognized solutions. To create the effective climate policies we all need, the World Bank must listen to the women who are most affected by the climate crisis.


How have the policies of the World Bank aggravated climate change?

·  The World Bank was founded to help finance the development of low-income countries. But the development model it promotes has often caused a great deal of harm. By focusing on large-scale energy infrastructure projects, like fossil fuel explorations and oil pipelines, it has contributed to the very root causes of climate change. The World Bank may use poverty alleviation as its argument, but increasing fossil fuel based production instead of clean energy only further threatens people’s lives.

·  The neoliberal economic policies of the World Bank prop up existing structures that keep nations of the Global South impoverished, indebted and invested in dirty energy that only worsens climate change. One such example is the World Bank’s Climate Investment Funds (CIFs). Through this program, developing countries rely on loans to acquire the resources to respond to climate change. They are ultimately responsible for paying off additional debts for a climate crisis they did not create.

How is the Global South impacted by World Bank policies?

·  It is rich, industrialized nations that are responsible for the majority of greenhouse gas emissions in our atmosphere. But it is developing countries that are disproportionately affected by the droughts, famines, floods, hurricanes and other extreme weather patterns triggered by climate change. According to the World Bank’s own figures, developing countries will suffer approximately 80% of the damage from climate change, despite only contributing one third of the global carbon emissions.

·  Part of the World Bank’s climate initiative is to finance projects that encourage sustainable development for impoverished nations. However, in 2010, 6.3 billion dollars went to fossil fuel projects. In contrast, only 3.4 billion dollars went to renewable energy and energy efficiency projects.

·  As a result of this pattern, impoverished nations are locked into projects that provide short-term financial gains but worsen climate change in the long term. This only means that poor countries will need to spend more to respond to the threats presented by the climate crisis.

·  The World Bank’s definition of “clean” energy is also questionable. It includes ‘clean coal’ and large-scale hydropower projects. But ‘clean coal’ is an oxymoron and a convenient slogan for coal companies. Large-scale hydropower projects like dams have repeatedly disrupted ecosystems and displaced people, including many Indigenous Peoples, from their lands. The World Bank is one of the biggest financial backers of these harmful dams.

How do World Bank policies on climate change affect women?


·  It is widely recognized that poor people are being hit first and worst by impacts of climate change, including food shortages, droughts, floods and disease. Fewer people acknowledge that as a result of gender discrimination, the majority of poor people worldwide—nearly 70 percent—are women.

·  Women are also responsible for many of the activities directly impacted by climate change, including farming and fetching water. When extreme weather diminishes crop output, it is women who eat last and least. And when droughts dry up water supplies, it is women that must walk farther to fetch drinking water.

·  Despite women’s particular vulnerability to climate change, World Bank policies fail to adequately recognize these gender-specific impacts in their funding and projects. They do not address the disproportionate climate impacts on women or include women’s voices in charting new paths forward. For example, the Chad-Cameroon oil pipeline, financed by the World Bank, was found to exacerbate women's poverty. The majority of small-scale farmers in Cameroon are women. When the pipeline carrying oil from Chad cut through their land, women’s livelihoods were put in jeopardy. 

What solutions are women worldwide creating?


The most promising, hopeful solutions to address climate change so far have not come from the negotiating halls of the major world powers. They have come from grassroots women who are fighting every day to protect their families and communities and to safeguard their environments.

·  Nicaragua: Indigenous Peoples in Nicaragua have protected local ecosystems for generations, using sustainable, small-scale farming methods and promoting community respect for the environment. These practices continue, through organizing efforts like those of our partner, Wangki Tangni. The Indigenous women of this grassroots groups have come together to train in organic farming. They have also organized a seed bank, through which women cultivate, save and share local, organic seeds from one growing season to the next.

·  Sudan: The effects of climate change are wreaking havoc in Sudan, where recurring droughts and floods are destroying crops and making farmers’ traditional knowledge obsolete. With the support of MADRE and our local partner, Zenab for Women in Development, women came together in a farmers union to share their coping strategies and to pool their resources. They are pioneering a new model of providing locally-grown, sustainable food aid, challenging humanitarian agencies to “buy local” and avoid carbon emissions from international shipping.

·  Kenya: Famine, drought and the loss of cattle as a source of income have impacted families across Kenya. With dead livestock littering barren fields, many families on the edge of despair feel driven to marry off daughters for a dowry in livestock or money – even if their girls are only half the legal age of 18 years. In this way, families struggling to survive forestall starvation and daughters are fed by their new husbands.

·  Our partners at the Indigenous Information Network operate the Nanyori Network of Shelters to offer girls an alternative to early marriage exacerbated by climate change. Young girls are given the opportunity to attend school and build a path out of poverty for themselves and their families.

·  Meanwhile, the leaders of our partner organization Womankind Kenya realized that long-term survival would mean adapting to persistent drought conditions that result from climate change. Now, Womankind Kenya is helping people switch their livestock from cattle to camels, hardier animals more likely to withstand prolonged droughts.

What’s next?


The solutions of grassroots women worldwide are charting a sustainable path forward. The World Bank must follow their lead and commit to:

1.    Break our reliance on fossil fuels. It must invest in projects that give resources to new clean energy possibilities, like wind and solar power. 

2.    Prioritize the input of grassroots women’s groups and civil society in crafting the policies of the World Bank to address climate change. MADRE’s partners are already building solutions to climate change in their communities, including running farming unions in Sudan that boost the capacity of small-scale famers and mobilizing Indigenous knowledge in Nicaragua to protect biodiversity and local ecosystems. Their lessons and expertise are critical to creating policies that confront climate change and protect human rights.

3.    Finance projects that enable rural communities to respond to climate change, without binding them to environmentally destructive projects. A “Robin Hood Tax” on financial transactions would help to fund clean energy projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions, while simultaneously stabilizing a highly volatile global financial market.

4.    Work with governments towards a strong, legally binding commitment to reduce climate change emissions, which must include real commitments from the industrialized countries that are most responsible for climate change.


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