America and World Bank Forest Conservation Under-Achievers

Here are two updates on long-standing campaigns by The first involves a long overdue World Bank ombudsman investigation of their activities in the Cambodian forest sector. The second regards President Bush's formal rescinding of roadless forest protections. Together they demonstrate how two of the most powerful institutions in the world – the U.S. government and World Bank – are utterly failing to protect the forest ecosystems upon which all life depend.

It need not be this way. Forest conservation is deeply conservative – so Bush's effort to log the last of America's wild forest heritage is purely resource cronyism and corruption, not tied to political ideology. There is no reason that rigorous forest conservation as a component of policy to ensure North American and global ecological sustainability should not be a bi-partisan no-brainer. The present American government must discard the notion that the way to healthy forests is through heavy industrial logging.
At one point several years ago the World Bank was playing useful roles in several national forest conservation policy debates – using its financial clout in a coalition with other conservation interests. As I shepherded one such Bank program in Papua New Guinea, we were able to tie lending to maintaining relatively high tax rates on the sector and to a moratorium on new logging. But alas, it appears the Bank's commitment to forests was primarily a sop to NGOs, and a means to maintain flows of tropical timbers to developed countries. The Bank must jettison its misguided support for reform of mafia-like illegal loggers.
There are potential forest conservation roles to be played by multi-lateral lending organizations and the World's wealthiest nations. But the World Bank and America have blown it. Both must change their most basic assumption – that industrial logging of the World's remaining forest wildlands is their best use. Until they do so, together they pose the greatest threat to the World's last mighty, ancient and roadless forest landscapes. As outgoing World Bank President Wolfensohn has himself recently said, they need to take “another look (at the Bank work on forestry) to see if we have screwed up”. They have.

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