Skip to content

Britain’s Shame: MPs Tell Poor Countries – No More Power For You

Imagine that you are one of those lucky people who have been born into immense wealth and privilege. The son of a ruthless tycoon, you have been privately and very expensively educated. You have a very substantial  (200 million sterling) trust fund, meaning you need never worry about money, and you own (directly and indirectly) many properties around the world which you fly between as need or fancy takes you. Leading newspapers have criticized you for your non-domiciled status in the country you claim to represent. You are known for your “love of gambling and partying“.

Now imagine that as part of this gilded life you serve as a Tory MP for one of the wealthiest parts of London and are also on a committee of MPs asked to review crucial aid for the poorest in the world. The aid money goes to the World Bank to help fund power stations to supply energy to those without reliable electricity for their homes, hospitals and schools. You’d have to support such a noble cause wouldn’t you?

Not if you are Zac Goldsmith, former editor of The Ecologist, and a leading “Green” campaigner. If you’re Zac, you’d recommend cutting stopping that aid money until the World Bank agreed to stop funding new power stations.

As The Guardian reports, Goldsmith is one of the MPs who are recommending that the UK withdraw funding from the World Bank until it stops building those nasty power stations in poor countries where they don’t need an electricity grid, but rather investment in “ecological systems”:

Zac Goldsmith, one of the 16 MPs on the committee, said: “Britain needs to be much more robust in its dealings with the lending agencies like the World Bank, as it often funds projects that directly contradict this government’s stated goals.

“There is an unavoidable link between poverty and environmental degradation, and I hope less DfID money will be delegated to the giant lending agencies, and more will be used to repair ecological systems with a view to alleviating the worst forms of poverty.”

Goldsmith certainly doesn’t have a problem recharging his Prius, thanks to the energy supply in his own country, but feels its important to keep “exerting pressure” on poorer countries to stop building the sort of electricity network that can provide constant, reliable power. The political party Goldsmith is a member of have promised to open a new nuclear power station every 18 months, so no worries at home – he can even campaign against it, safe in the knowledge that his outrage will be ignored by his own party. There will be “no limit” on these new power stations in England’s green and pleasant land, so plug in that Prius and motor down to your 300 acre organic farm to enjoy the good life.

But not for the people in desperately poor countries who lack basic necessities like electricity. The recommendation of the committee Goldsmith sits on? No more funding for power stations, instead it must be channeled to NGOs and “grassroots” organizations:

The committee called for more money to be channelled through civil society, or grassroots groups, as opposed to governments. At present only £600,000, or 15% of its bilateral aid programme is spent this way

For their own good, of course. And what of the “ecological systems” which Goldsmith and other MPs want to see the World Bank invest in? Even the left-wing Guardian’s own environment editor describes them as “sheer madness” – which really tells you how unworkable the idea is. As the Guardian points out, the only people it will really help are the “civil society” and “grassroots” groups beloved of Goldsmith et al:

The World Bank’s flagship Biocarbon Fund project is billed as a triple win for more food production, cash for the poor and climate resilience. Really? The reality is that Africa’s first “soil carbon” project – which will involve 60,000 Kenyan farmers planting trees, manuring the land, and farming in “sustainable” ways to save around 600,000 tonnes of carbon over 20 years – also exhibits the sheer madness of the carbon markets.

The excellent US-based Institute for Agriculture Trade Policy (IATP) has now analysed the fine print and found (PDF) that the project expects to earn $2.5m from the carbon markets. But to set it up, to employ advisers and consultants and to monitor it will cost $1.05m. The 60,000 farmers will then share the remaining $1.4m. This sounds good, but works out at a lowly $23.83 each over the 20 years, or just a little more that $1 per year. Moreover, they will only earn this if they change the way they farm and record precisely what they plant, burn and put on the land. Given that the poverty line in Kenya is around $1 a day, the chance for Africans to earn a tiny amount a year – while Swedish and other advisers earn massive amounts – is likely to end in tears.

Haunting The Library, 29 June 2011