An independent evaluation leaked earlier this week found that the World Bank's support for the logging of tropical rainforests is failing in its key aims of preventing their destruction and addressing rural poverty. But, according to sources in the Bank, its forestry department is refusing to reconsider its approach, is lobbying the Board hard to avoid being held accountable for its failures, and has stated its intention to continue supporting tropical forest logging.
"The World Bank's evaluation confirms what has long been obvious - cutting down trees on an industrial scale is not the way to preserve the world's remaining tropical forests or help the people that live in them." said Rick Jacobsen, Head of International Forest Policy at Global Witness. "When Bank Board members meet on Monday to decide next steps, they need to act on the evaluation's findings and demand that the Bank pursue alternatives to industrial logging in tropical forests that better help the poor and preserve forests."
Over the years, the World Bank has supported the expansion of industrial logging in some of the world's most important and endangered rainforests in countries such as Cambodia, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo, Indonesia, and Liberia. In Cambodia, Congo and Liberia this prompted formal complaints from communities living in the forests that the Bank was harming their livelihoods. Two inspections by the Bank's own ombudsman found that Bank staff had breached multiple safeguard policies meant to protect vulnerable people and the environment.
"The Bank's foresters remain in denial and resistant to all efforts to hold them accountable to the people whose interests they are supposed to serve. In the meantime, the evidence continues to pile up that industrial logging in tropical forests mainly benefits a few international logging companies and corrupt government officials," said Rick Jacobsen. "Increasingly, scientific research is revealing that the decades-old dogma about the benefits of industrial logging is more about politics than science, and is certainly not backed up by the reality on the ground. The Bank and its member governments have avoided this reality for too long; now they need to take action."
The review of the Bank's forestry programmes that Board members are examining on Monday was carried out by the Independent Evaluation Group (IEG), an independent evaluations division of the World Bank that reports directly to the Bank's Executive Directors. The IEG reviewers visited many of the countries where the Bank is pursuing forestry programmes and reached a series of damning conclusions. As well as criticising the outcomes of the Bank's support for industrial-scale logging in the tropics, the IEG faults Bank programmes for failing to involve local people, tackle rural poverty or recognise the risk - which virtually always manifests itself - that the financial returns from logging will be gobbled up by powerful and corrupt interests.