As an activist in the US working to phase out coal plants, it’s distressing to me to think that so much of what the US climate movement has accomplished in the last few years could be undone by one of the world’s largest coal plant proposals – the fate of which is likely to be decided in the next several days. On Thursday, April 8th, the World Bank is expected to vote on a decision to lend $3.75 billion to a South African utility that wants to build a 4,800 MW (that’s right, 4,800 megawatts!!!) coal plant. Environmental groups ranging from the Sierra Club to Friends of the Earth are up in arms, urging US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner to vote against the loan (follow the links to the “take action” pages for these groups).
With its history of funding mega-dams that displace entire villages, and development projects that destroy rainforests, the World Bank has some work to do to improve its environmental and human rights image. Helping to finance one of the world’s largest carbon pollution projects would not exactly be a step in the right direction, and would cast serious doubt over whether the World Bank’s recent statements on climate change are anything more than empty talk. This is a project the World Bank needs to pull out of, and the United States must exert its influence to make that happen.
The mainstream media is likely to frame this as an issue of environmentalists from developed countries trying to deprive the population in a developing nation of cheap electricity. Yet the truth is that Eskom, the South African utility proposing the mega-coal plant, plans to triple electricity prices for its ratepayers in order to pay back the World Bank loan. South African residents have been protesting outside Eskom’s offices, while more than 50 South African faith, justice, and environmental organizations have denounced the coal plant project.
Yet the US may refrain from taking a stand on the issue. It looks like the US, under the leadership of the Obama administration, is likely to abstain from voting on the loan to Eskom this Thursday. That could amount to letting the proposal roll forward, negating much of Obama’s work to limit greenhouse emissions so far.
The World Bank vote on this will come in less than a week, and the need for action could hardly be less urgent. Please urge US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner to vote “no” on a World Bank loan to Eskom.