The World Bankers
The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund have long been the cogs that turn the wheels of global economics, driving infrastructure growth and economic development. Some have argued that the World Bank and the IMF have outlived their purpose, no longer effective as tools for the future. Enter the Global Environment Facility (GEF), a little-known agency that finances large international projects with demonstrated financial outcomes that are progressive and sustainable.
When we need capital, we turn to banks as one major source of revenue to fund our acquisitions and desired. We pay the price, in interest and principal over time, to provide what we want now, may or may not be fully able to afford, and to prolong the final payment to a lump sum payback or condemnation of value enjoyed. Our automobile loan, or mortgage, is but one iteration of the banking world, that does not include the bank’s own investments with our funds, in companies, bonds, capital projects, where too there is an actuarial calculation based on the bank’s estimates of its corporate profits, dividends to shareholders, salaries and bonuses, and other self-fulfilling returns. Banks thrive, but, as we have learned from various crises over the past decades, they, too, can miscalculate and fail.
Scale up to global investments, beyond even the central banks of the most economically developed nations, and there you will find the world’s bankers, The World Bank and International Monetary Fund, that make massive loans to nation states to build infrastructure, incentivize economic development, with finely calculated interest payments and debt structures that can transform an economy and landscape, with little or no accountability beyond press releases, development reports, and post-consequence rationalizations that leave the price to pay on national balance sheets or in the victims’ hands when such investments go awry.
The World Bank as the focal point and key player in the world of international finance is the engine that keeps global capitalism going; its projects are enormous and reflect the value system that has driven growth worldwide since the mid-twentieth century, the insatiable growth with accompanying exploitation of natural resources that now can be seen as not just attack on Nature but as a paradoxical application of progress imposed with astonishing social disruption and destruction now revealed. It has fostered massive industrial applications that, in the name of progress, have ironically destroyed or exhausted the resources required to keep the engine turning, indifferent to the displacement and poverty thereby engendered. In the name of economic development, wealth is centralized and transferred, and local poverty enhanced in the name of its eradication. There is no reciprocity in these banking transactions, no sustainability for the land, the air, the water, or the people who live in these places, the so-called beneficiaries of this capital endeavor who somehow never see the return on investment.
There are some who argue that the World Bank and IMF have outlived, indeed, compromised their purpose that they are no longer effective tools for the future. There are some who argue that the true “world bank” has been an unlikely, little known agency called the Global Environment Facility, also based in Washington, DC, and also engaged in the finance of large projects funded by international contributions, that has demonstrated that, with an alternative applications of values, financial outcomes can be envisioned and reached that are progressive, sustainable, beneficial, and equally rewarding, surely more rewarding over time. The list of the GEF priorities is startlingly different: sustainable development, human development, alternative energy generation to scale, internet access for communication and enterprise, basic nutrition, small scale agricultural technology, fishery and forest management, irrigation and drainage services, bio-regional landscape management, water protection, sanitation services, pollution controls, local transport and road construction, renewal and housing in urban centers, employment and training, secondary education, health services — each of these based on human and community needs and well-being, each of these providing a social return on investment that is constructive, future-oriented, and directly beneficial to its client community.
The program is informed by serving as a “financial mechanism” to five international conventions: on Biological Diversity, Climate Change, Persistent Organic Pollutants and Mercury, and Desertification. The Grants Program has provided over $580 million to more than 21,500 projects around the world, supported 8.41 million hectares of protected areas, conserved 1,803 significant species, brought 900,000 hectares of land under practices that counter its degradation, and placed 32,000 hectares of marine and coastal areas under sustainable management. An independent evaluation of GEF programs from 2013–2015 notes that the GEF record supports projects that are “relevant, effective, and efficient in achieving global environmental benefits, while addressing issues of livelihoods, poverty, gender equality and women’s empowerment.” Its agenda for the future includes “promotion of local innovative and scalable initiatives to protect the global environment in priority landscapes and seascapes, to serve as “incubators” of innovation in such areas as sustainable agriculture and fisheries; low-carbon energy access; threatened biodiversity, ecosystems and species conservation; chemicals and waste management; and sustainable urban development.
That’s banking for the future.
PETER NEILL is founder and director of the World Ocean Observatory, a web-based place of exchange for information and educational services about the health of the world ocean. He is also host of World Ocean Radio, upon which this blog is inspired. World Ocean Radio celebrates 13 years this year, with more than 625 episodes produced to date.