Shackled to coal: EBRD set to buck positive global investment trends
Bankwatch Mail | 11 November 2013
The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the last of three multilateral international financial institutions (IFIs) to undertake a revision of its energy lending this year, is scheduled to adopt a new energy policy on December 10. The EBRD’s policy review process follows similar reviews at both the European Investment Bank and the World Bank that have seen both institutions introduce conditions intended to restrict their respective lending to coal projects.
This article is from Issue 57 of our quarterly newsletter Bankwatch Mail
However, campaigners from across Europe who have engaged intensively with the bank during the consultation process for the new policy are alarmed that the EBRD appears set to fall some way behind the progressive energy markers set by other IFIs this year, particularly at a moment when investing in coal is fast gaining a reputation akin to investing in apartheid-era South Africa.
Since the energy policy announcements earlier this year from both the World Bank and the EIB, global financial institutions have been gradually, but notably, turning away from coal lending. Recent months have seen a decision from the Norwegian financial giant Storebrand to blacklist an additional 19 firms that invest in fossil fuels, as well as a joint declaration from the Scandinavian countries together with the US spelling out that they will stop coal lending abroad.
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The latest progressive development, announced at the end of October, saw the publication by the US administration of a new ‘Guidance for US Positions on MDBs Engaging with Developing Countries on Coal-Fired Power Generation‘. A key element of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan, this sees an ending of US government support for the public financing – via the MDBs (multi-lateral development banks) – of new coal plants overseas “except in narrowly defined circumstances“, namely in projects involving “(a) the most efficient coal technology available in the world’s poorest countries in cases where no other economically feasible alternative exists, or (b) facilities deploying carbon capture and sequestration technologies.”
As part of this new commitment, the US intends to work actively to secure the agreement of other countries – starting with the Scandinavian countries, the UK and Austria, that have already shown their determination to push for more stringent energy lending criteria than those adopted by the EIB in July. The MDBs – including, we can assume, the EBRD – will also be urged to adopt similar policies as soon as possible.
In spite of these developments since the EBRD made its draft energy policy public earlier this year, the bank seems oblivious to the fact that public opinion is strongly against coal lending and that it needs to tighten its coal lending criteria significantly.
With the Kosova e Re lignite power plant’s uncertain future constituting a real elephant in the room for the EBRD (some of the bank’s shareholders are keen to see the controversial project financed by the bank), and speakers from the EBRD due to talk about the financing of and international cooperation on clean coal technologies at the International Coal and Climate summit (being organised by the World Coal Association and hosted by the Polish Ministry of Economy while the Warsaw COP conference meets), it is clear that the EBRD is struggling to kick its coal and wider fossil fuel habit.
Coming too in the wake of the disturbing findings in the latest IPPC report that points clearly to human activity as the cause of changes in the Earth’s mean temperature, and in spite of references to climate change in the EBRD’s energy policy draft, it has not escaped the attention of some observers that the bank’s new energy strategy may not measure up to higher climate standards introduced by the EIB in its new energy policy.
All eyes, then, on December 10 when the EBRD’s board of directors will rubberstamp the new energy policy. The EBRD has the opportunity still to prove that it is adapting to fundamental, vital changes in the real world, and can add to the growing global momentum to phase out fossil fuel subsidies, starting with an immediate ban on all forms of coal lending. Now is the time for the EBRD to break free from its coal shackles.