Wolfowitz ‘tried to censor World Bank on climate change’

By Andrew Gumbel

The Bush administration has consistently thwarted efforts by the World Bank to include global warming in its calculations when considering whether to approve major investments in industry and infrastructure, according to documents made public through a watchdog yesterday.

On one occasion, the White House’s pointman at the bank, the now disgraced Paul Wolfowitz, personally intervened to remove the words “climate change” from the title of a bank progress report and ordered changes to the text of the report to shift the focus away from global warming.

But the issue predates Mr Wolfowitz’s appointment as president of the bank in June 2005. According to the Government Accountability Project (GAP), which has tracked efforts to censor debate on global warming, environmental specialists at the World Bank tried unsuccessfully to press for consideration of greenhouse- gas emissions in a paper written – but never published – in 2002.

It was politics that prevented the publication of that paper, according to one senior bank insider who spoke to the Los Angeles Times, and politics that has been the principal obstacle to progress since. Only now, with the Bush administration on the ropes politically and the scientific evidence for global warming reaching such critical mass that even President George Bush has been forced to acknowledge its reality, are those same bank officials trying again to put the issue on the agenda. “Our biggest obstacle has been that politically, [climate change] is very controversial,” Kristalina Georgieva, the bank’s strategy and operations director for sustainable development, told the LA Times.

She said that, even under the best of circumstances, it will be at least two years before the bank starts measuring the impact of fossil fuel-related projects on the planet’s health. “We are not moving fast enough,” she added. “It’s not possible to be moving fast enough.”

The GAP has uncovered evidence of one striking instance of Bush administration censorship. In 2006, the bank’s vice presidents responded to a request from the Group of Eight industrialised countries and commissioned a draft report entitled Climate Change, Energy and Sustainable Development: Towards an Investment Framework. They endorsed the report, according to the minutes of a meeting obtained by the GAP.

Subsequently, however, Mr Wolfowitz’s office put out a memo asking the team to rework the paper, “shifting from a climate lens mainly to a clean-energy lens”. The edited paper issued a few months later was eventually called Clean Energy and Development: Towards an Investment Framework.

The World Bank has come under fire from environmental groups for a number of decisions, including a recent grant to develop lignite mining and power plants in Kosovo. Lignite – or brown coal – pollutes the air heavily when burnt and is generally regarded as one of the dirtiest fuel sources on the planet.

The investment appears to go against the bank’s own policy, from 2001, whereby it decided to try to phase out oil and gas investments by 2008 and to extend an existing moratorium on investments in coal mining.

The GAP put out a report in March detailing similar problems at other agencies, most notably the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration which, among other duties, tracks hurricanes and other extreme weather phenomena. The report cited “objectionable and possibly illegal restrictions on the communication of scientific information to the media” – including censorship of interviews and press releases.

More recently, the GAP has reported the Bush administration’s refusal to consider climate change as it prepares to expand the national air transport system threefold over the next 20 years. A multi-agency group called the Next Generation Air Transportation System has simply ignored global warming in its past two annual reports.

Mr Wolfowitz was forced to step down in June after it emerged that he had given a lucrative sinecure to his girlfriend and offered her excessive pay rises.