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If the World Bank dismantles its safeguards, what would that mean for REDD?

Four years ago, Simon Counsell, the director of the Rainforest Foundation UK, was quoted in the Observer as saying that “REDD needs to be taken out of the hands of the World Bank”.

A week later, the newspaper ran the following correction:

We have been asked to clarify that the reduced emissions from deforestation and degradation (Redd) scheme featured in this article is not, as we stated, “in the hands of the World Bank”. It is a scheme shared by a partnership of countries and organisations that are committed to mitigate climate change by reducing carbon emissions.

Clearly the World Bank didn’t want to admit full responsibility for REDD. But the reality is that the World Bank’s Forest Carbon Partnership Facility plays a hugely influential role in promoting its version of REDD as a carbon trading mechanism.

At the same time, the Bank seems determined to undermine REDD. The recent decision by the Carbon Fund that the price of REDD credits will not be more than US$5 means that countries establishing REDD programmes will simply not have enough money to carry out a meaningful process of free, prior and informed consent, or deal with thorny issues such as land rights. Further, as Bruce Rich points out, the REDD programme, “seemed to be in denial about the intractable challenge of governance”. But unless these issues are addressed, REDD will simply not work.

Meanwhile, since October 2012, the World Bank has been reviewing its safeguard policies. A first draft was submitted to the Vice-Presidents of the Bank in May 2014. This draft remains confidential, but emails leaked from the Bank of comments on the draft from several offices of Vice-Presidents raised serious concerns.

Now, a draft of the Environmental and Social Framework dated 10 July 2014 has been leaked from the Bank. (You can read it and download it here.)

UPDATE – 31 July 2014: The draft document has been removed from Scribd: “This content was removed at the request of World Bank Group.” (Thanks to James W. Kisekka for pointing this out in a comment.)

Yesterday, the World Bank put out a statement explaining that the Board had “today provided clearance for the Bank to consult publicly on a first draft of a proposal to modernize the policies that safeguard people and the environment in the investment projects the World Bank finances.”

The draft for consultation, dated 30 July 2014, can be downloaded here (pdf file, 2.3 MB). It is 36 pages shorter than the draft dated 10 July 2014, which can be downloaded here (pdf file, 1.7 MB).

It confirms the worst fears of the Bank’s critics. Stephanie Fried, director of the Ulu Foundation, told the Guardian,

“[T]his plan reveals a shocking attempt to eviscerate protections for the poor while giving a green light for the destruction of forests and the natural environment.”

Nezir Sinani, climate change coordinator at the Bank Information Center, said,

“The leaked proposal reveals a significant weakening of existing standards. They are not only at odds with the bank’s stated goals of ending extreme poverty and boosting shared prosperity, but lowers the bar for the international community.”

The draft safeguards are also weak on climate change. Rather than, say, banning coal financing, the leaked draft merely states that the World Bank seeks to “Address project-level impacts on climate change.”

The draft safeguards undermine Indigenous Peoples’ rights by including an “opt-out” provision for governments. Below is a press release from the Forest Peoples Programme and the Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact. A statement of concern (available here) was presented to the Bank on 29 July 2014.

The Committee on Development Effectiveness (CODE) of the World Bank’s Board of Executive Directors will meet today to discuss the draft. The Bank’s website explains that if the draft is approved, “a second round of consultations on a draft proposal, dates to be confirmed, will be conducted”.

Bank on Human Rights, a coalition of NGOs, social movements and community groups, is urging the Bank to reject the draft and send it back for revision.

World Bank moves to undermine the rights of indigenous peoples

(Bangkok, London, Tuesday 29 July 2014) –

In an unprecedented move, the World Bank will be proposing that governments could ‘opt-out’ of requirements designed to protect indigenous peoples from unintended and negative consequences from development activities funded by the multilateral lender. In a leaked draft of new environmental and social standards to be considered for public consultation by a committee of the World Bank Executive Board on 30th of July, language has been included that would allow governments to disregard their existing obligations to indigenous peoples.

When the Bank announced it would be revising these standards (previously contained in an ad hoc set of eight separate policies) Bank management committed to ‘no dilution’ of existing standards. This commitment has been repeated often over the past three years.

However, proposing that governments can ignore international standards on protection of indigenous peoples, and ignore the human rights that underpin those protections, is with out doubt a significant and serious watering down of existing standards.

Joan Carling, Secretary General of the Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact, noted “it is with deep disappointment and frustration that the World Bank chooses to further discriminate and marginalize indigenous peoples, instead of rectifying its bad legacy with indigenous peoples. Even with the inclusion of the provision for the free prior and informed consent, or FPIC, of indigenous peoples, this is meaningless with the ‘opt-out option’ for borrowers, of which many Asian governments would do as they refuse to legally recognize indigenous peoples in their respective countries. The legal recognition of the rights of indigenous peoples over their lands, territories and resources is not also fully supported, which is a critical element for the protection of indigenous peoples in any development intervention.”

A dangerous aspect of the Bank’s proposal is the precedent it could set for other multilateral finance institutions. The Bank has historically been a leader in developing progressively stronger environmental and social protections, but this latest draft undermines that reputation significantly.

Joji Cariño, Director of the Forest Peoples Programme, commented “Indigenous peoples’ recommendations on the need to strengthen World Bank standards and bring them into line with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples have fallen on deaf ears. World Bank pledges on ‘no-dilution’ of existing policies are being broken with this proposed opt-out, despite advances made in other substantive areas of the new proposals.”

The real threat if the proposed policies are adopted is the practical and immediate impact that these retrograde standards could have for indigenous peoples living in countries where governments routinely deny them their rights. For many indigenous peoples in Africa and elsewhere, national and regional law is just now beginning to recognise and protect their lands and their livelihoods by applying the laws developed over decades of advocacy.

Indigenous peoples are mobilizing worldwide to demand that the World Bank withdraw the offensive policy proposals. They are calling on the Bank to ensure that the policy revision results in standards that are fully in line with international norms and obligations on the rights of indigenous peoples. At the same time, they are pressing the World Bank President to uphold his promise to prevent any dilution of existing standards.

A statement of concern detailing recommendations for action by the World Bank’s Executive Board has been presented to the World Bank today (July 29, 2014) and endorsed by 84 indigenous peoples’ organizations and institutions, 59 support groups and 20 individuals.


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  1. It is very difficult for Indigenous Peoples Governments to oppose World Bank proposed directions while their REDD+ – Climate Change offices continue to receive funding to keep their doors open.

  2. Most borrowers of the World Bank hate its 10 operation policies (earlier directives) in general and the ones relating to indigenous people and resettlement and rehabilitation. The Bank too has been extremely rigid in the past on these and dozens of projects in the pipeline were shelved. Now if it is diluting then it is more for commercial or business reasons.

  3. And the draft “Environmental and Social Framework dated 10 July 2014” referred to in the post has been removed from Scribd at the request of the WB group!