Will the World Bank increase eco-destructive loans?

Alarm bells are ringing.  Leaked emails suggest the World Bank -- once notorious for lending hundreds of billions of dollars for environmentally destructive projects -- could be easing loan conditions for a range of risky projects.

  Not happy with the Bank...

Not happy with the Bank...

Environmentalists and human-rights campaigners are up in arms because the leaked emails suggest the Bank is considering a radical step -- making more than $50 billion in public funds available annually for large power, mining, transport, and farming projects that frequently have major environmental impacts.

The leaked emails -- which were seen by The Observer newspaper in the UK -- suggest senior officers at the Bank are worried about the repercussions of such loans, fearing they would lead to an increase in "problem projects".

In the past, some World Bank loans have come under intense fire for causing large-scale environmental damage and social disruption in the Amazon, India, Indonesia, Africa, and elsewhere.

The emails suggest the Bank may expand the use of "biodiversity offsetting" -- which allows developers to destroy nature in one place if they compensate for it elsewhere.  Many conservationists view such measures with suspicion.

The World Bank and its subsidiaries loan billions of dollars annually to over 100 countries to alleviate poverty.  It is the world's largest development institution.

The Bank was lambasted in the 1980s and 1990s by environmental and social-rights activists for its damaging lending policies and because it is dominated by industrialized countries

Since then the World Bank has improved its record to a degree, bringing in more environmental and social safeguards, but the leaked emails have many worried that the Bank's bad old days might be returning.