World: WB to Work on Oil, Gas and Mining Projects
Later this month, James Wolfensohn, the president of the World Bank, and
his management colleagues will have to make one of the easier but less
popular decisions of their careers.
Barring an extraordinary last-minute reversal of their draft
proposals, recently leaked to the Financial Times, they will reject
several of the crucial recommendations of a review about the
extractive industries - oil, gas and mining - they themselves
instituted. In particular, they will oppose the idea that the Bank should
phase out all oil projects within five years.
Their recommendation will almost certainly be accepted by the Bank's
executive board, which recently voted to support the
Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline between the Caspian and the
Mediterranean against the vociferous complaints of environmental
The fact that the bank's management has forced itself to make this
decision shows the widespread influence of the fashionable concepts of
"partnership" and "stakeholding" - the idea that governments,
business, international institutions and lobby groups can join
together to forge a common purpose. But the fate of the Extractive
Industries Review, and of some of its predecessors, shows that the
practice has found it hard to resolve issues over which there are deep
The vogue for stakeholder consultations, a product of the 1990s, was
imbued with the glowing optimism of globalisers during that era. The
dream was that non-government organisations and corporate executives
could establish practices that would capture financial returns for
companies and social returns for the poor. The reality, however, has
proved more mixed. Some of the first attempts at partnerships and
consultations, such as the World Commission on Dams, ended in
disillusionment (see below).
So when the bank promised a consultation about its work in the
extractive industries, it was hugely significant. Oil, gas and
mining, which affect some of the poorest and worst-governed nations on
earth, rivals dam-building for intense controversy. NGOs
interested in the issue include mainstream organisations concerned with
human rights, poverty, corruption and corporate accountability, such as
Amnesty International, Global Witness and Oxfam.
One argument made by many NGOs and some academics is that extractive
industries in poor countries do more harm than good by entrenching a
destructive and predatory elite. On the other side is the view, held by
many in the Bank, that international support and monitoring ensure that
the revenues generated from the industries can be harnessed for the
poorest. Indeed, the Bank's involvement in another high-profile project,
the Chad-Cameroon oil pipeline, has led it further down the road of
intervening between governments and their citizens by
demanding openness and accountability in how revenues are spent.
The World Bank and its private sector arm, the International Finance
Corporation, have become a battleground in this dispute. It is true the
amount of money the Bank spends on oil and gas projects is
relatively small - the IFC, for example, will provide just 10 per cent of
the cost of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline. But the Bank's seal of
approval is eagerly sought. Meeting its "safeguard" standards on the
environment and governance earns international respectability. Moreover,
many national export credit agencies, whose financial
support can be essential for western companies to get involved in
high-risk, long-term projects, condition their participation on World
The very creation of the EIR created trepidation. Announced by Mr
Wolfensohn during a meeting with NGOs at the Bank's annual meetings in
Prague in 2000, the decision at once caused consternation among some Bank
Initially, NGOs were content. But when it emerged that, rather than
seeking consensus among a diverse commission, the process would hinge on
the opinion of a single "eminent person", they too became alarmed. The
person the Bank chose to be the sole arbiter was Emil Salim, an
Indonesian former environment minister who served under the brutal
dictatorial regime of President Suharto.
NGOs were instantly suspicious, and contended that the Bank had
created a sham process over which it would exert backstage control. Their
suspicions were strengthened when Bernard Salome, a Bank
official seconded to work in the project's administrative department,
made it clear that he intended to prevent NGOs from dominating the
"The spin from Salome was that the World Commission on Dams' problem was
that the Bank wasn't brought into the process," says Steve
Kretzmann, campaign co-ordinator for the Sustainable Energy and
Economy Network, part of the left-leaning Institute for Policy
Studies think-tank in Washington DC, who was deeply involved in
campaigning on the EIR. "I took that as saying the Bank didn't agree with
the WCD and wasn't going to let it happen again."
A series of five regional consultations around the world at which NGOs
would be allowed to make their case was planned but one activist recalls
Mr Salome saying: "My strategy is to bury you in paper." And at the
Asia-Pacific workshop in Indonesia, local NGOs staged a
walk-out, saying, as Mr Salim put it: "This whole review is just a
disguised World Bank public relations stunt."
But for those NGOs that stuck with the process, Mr Salim's ear was open.
A pivotal moment came when an early draft of the report,
sympathetic to the oil and mining industry, was leaked. This provoked
swift changes, not least the departure of Mr Salome. Robert Goodland, an
environmental consultant and adviser to Mr Salim, who worked on the
review, says that Mr Salome was forced to resign when it became clear
that he was giving the Bank's input an unfair advantage. (Mr Salome has
not returned e-mails or calls asking for comment since his resignation.)
n the end, the final report gave the sceptics of the benefits of
extractive industries almost everything they wanted.
While the report accepts that extractive industries can contribute to
poverty alleviation, it also says the World Bank is not ideally
placed to help them. More dramatically, it recommends that, to combat
climate change, the Bank should pull out of oil projects in five
years, end the funding of coalmining and quickly ramp up lending for
renewable energy. It should also require "free prior and informed
consent" - a stringent legal test - from local indigenous peoples before
funding any extractive project.
Industry and governments flatly rejected the conclusions. "We do not
believe that a blanket prescription to phase out engagement by 2008 is
helpful," said Hilary Benn, the UK's international development secretary,
in a letter sent to Mr Salim after the final report in December.
The International Council on Mining and Metals, a coalition of
companies, said bluntly: "ICMM considers the EIR recommendations to be
costly, unproductive and unrealistic."
A coalition of oil company executives, including officials at Shell and
BP, rejected the report in a a statement that called some of the
In such a contentious area, some disagreement is inevitable; but the
disputes raised fundamental questions about just how such a
consultation could bring such disparate views together.
For one thing, the review placed tremendous weight on the judgment of the
eminent person. Mr Salim was considered by some participants as a loose
cannon. In early drafts, he made sweeping criticisms of the Bank's
approach to "structural adjustment" - economic reform -
outside the field of extractive industries.
In October Sharon White, policy head at the UK's Department for
International Development, sent a sharply worded letter to Mr Salim. "It
is not the Bank's role to start 'formal acts of acknowledgement and
contrition for the wrongs done to indigenous communities (from) centuries
of European colonial expansion'," she said
Mr Goodland, however, defends Mr Salim. "When you give an independent
group or person the remit to examine an issue, you can't control what
they look into," he says. But even he admits Mr Salim would swing back
and forth, apparently according to who had been lobbying him last.
"Sometimes you would get a new draft from him and there would suddenly be
something very positive about the nuclear industry in there, and it was
clear whom he had just been talking to."
As late as September last year, an independent advisory group
convened by Mr Salim complained that the draft report failed to
tackle the central question of the review: whether extractive
industries could contribute to poverty alleviation.
Some participants also said that Mr Salim's rationale for suggesting that
the Bank pull out of oil and gas - the effect on climate change from
carbon emissions - was another departure from the review's remit.
Sir Mark Moody-Stuart, chairman of the mining company Anglo-American,
former chairman of Shell and a veteran of many such partnerships, says:
"I consider the job of an adviser is to give advice which might be
adopted. Giving extreme advice which will be rejected is not doing your
Mr Salim defends both the report's conclusions and the way they were
reached. The review "provides the eminent person the opportunity to draw
conclusions on the basis of his conviction and conscience,
without feeling the necessity to compromise with others, sacrificing
thereby his principles, which is normally the case in commissions", he
said in an e-mail interview. he philosophy underlying stakeholding is to
search for consensus, to allow participants to learn from each other and
to reduce divisions caused by misunderstandings of the
opposing view. Some parties felt this had, at least in part, been achieved.
Rashad Kaldany, director of the Bank's oil, gas and mining division,
defends the review. "What has been surprising for me is how much
people agree on," he says. He also says he learnt that the Bank had to
"work harder in telling local people what we are doing".
But a large part of what seemed to divide NGOs, governments and bank
staff during the process was not mis-understandings. It was a stark,
fundamental disagreement about the ability of oil, gas and mining to
better the lives of the poorest people in the world.
Many activists believed that an open-minded investigation had
concluded that they were right and their opponents were wrong. Mr
Kretzmann says: "Throughout the whole process, there was no credible
evidence that the extractive industries could contribute meaningfully to
The Bank management's challenge now is to adopt enough of the
recommendations to be acceptable to its shareholders and staff
without losing the legitimacy conferred by the NGOs' approval. Mr Kaldany
says: "There is a responsibility to take seriously all the
recommendations. There is also a responsibility on the side of civil
society (NGOs) to say: we understand this is a complex set of issues and
you may not agree to everything."
But he says NGOs are unwilling to compromise. "It is very clear the
message we are getting is: we want you to adopt everything or else."
Mr Kretzmann confirms this. "Implementing the EIR as a whole is a litmus
test for the Bank's sincerity in a stakeholder engagement," he says.
With such opposed views, the final outcome is unlikely to bring
dissenting voices much closer together. When the lowest that NGOs want to
go is way above the maximum that governments are prepared to give, even
the most elaborate consultative processes will struggle to bridge the
Sir Mark Moody-Stuart says consultations can have some value, citing a
range of examples such as the voluntary principles on security and human
rights, a joint initiative of the US State Department, the UK Foreign
Office and NGOs that drew up guidelines for companies that use armed
security. Discipline, he says, is vital to making
consultations effective. "You need to have a broad representation and
define the question narrowly," Sir Mark says. Those principles were not
adhered to in the EIR. "Focusing it on the extractive industries and
poverty eradication was a well-defined narrow objective. But then we went
off into climate change and structural adjustment."
Herman Daly, a former World Bank economist and professor of public
affairs at the University of Maryland, who joined Mr Salim's advisory
panel towards the end, says the review produced real debate and some
But, he adds: "The consultation is based on a woolly concept of
stakeholding. Stakeholders are interested parties. But you ought to have
a representation of disinterested parties. If there are no
disinterested parties, you can forget the whole thing."
The difficult search for global standards
The Extractive Industries Review is not the first attempt by a
stakeholder consultation to set global standards in an intensely
The trail was blazed by the World Commission on Dams (WCD), a
two-year project that brought together hydrologists, industry
representatives and environmentalists to debate a contentious
development issue. In 1993, the World Bank withdrew from the Sardar
Sarovar dam system on the Narmada river in India after pressure from
local and international campaigners.
The WCD report, largely sceptical of big dams and containing
guidelines for environmental and social consultation, was launched by
Nelson Mandela in a London ceremony in November 2000. The commission
attracted some unusual support: Medha Patkar, the leader of the local
campaign against the Narmada dam, took part in the process and signed its
conclusions, though with a dissenting addendum.
But the commission ended in impotent recrimination. It became clear that
its recommendations would not be widely enforced. The bank
itself did not commit to following all the guidelines. Several
governments, notably China's and India's, declined to pay them any heed.
"If the bank had accepted the commission report completely, many
arguments could have been avoided," Ms Patkar says. But adopting the
stringent standards of the WCD would probably have meant even more dam
projects going ahead without the bank's involvement, as both the Sardar
Sarovar in India and the Three Gorges dam in China have done.
The World Bank has a penchant for consultations because of the nature of
its work, and the desire of James Wolfensohn, its president, to bring
civil groups closer to the institution. Another example was the
"structural adjustment participatory review international network", a
four-year consultation conducted by NGOs and local academics in
developing countries. It was billed as a fresh look at structural
adjustment - the reform agenda that generally includes privatisation and
trade and economic liberalisation.
But there was little doubt about what it was likely to conclude when it
reported in 2002. The secretariat was led by two brothers, Doug and Steve
Hellinger, of the Development Gap - whose mission is "to educate US
policymakers, the media and the public about the economic reform measures
. . . causing ecological and economic devastation in the South".
Unsurprisingly, the review concluded that structural adjustment had been
a disaster, contributing to poverty and inequality. Equally
unsurprising was that the bank, to the disappointment of the report's
authors, declined to change course.