Are Countries Doing Enough to Fight Pollution?
Today, many countries are grappling with endemic or near endemic levels of pollution.
IEG found that the World Bank Group’s support for pollution action has not kept pace with increasing pollution levels. In fact, support to pollution management has declined in relative terms, with the Bank Group largely shifting its attention to climate change and other priorities.
Earlier this month, news reports highlighted the pollution challenges in India, where a thick cloud of toxic smog 10 times the recommended limit engulfed the country’s capital, New Delhi. India is not alone, sadly. High growth rates in many developing countries have helped reduce poverty in recent years. But, as a recent report by the Lancet Commission on Pollution and Health shows, this progress has come at a steep price. Today, many countries are grappling with endemic or near endemic levels of pollution.
According to the Lancet report, nine million people die annually from pollution-related causes. That is 3 times more than deaths due to AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria combined.
From an economic standpoint, pollution imposes substantial costs as well – often between 4 and 5 percent of a country’s gross domestic product. And the burden falls disproportionately on the poor, with 94 percent of all deaths occurring in lower and middle-income countries.
So how are countries responding, and what is the World Bank Group doing about this? Apparently not enough.
A new evaluation released this week by IEG, Toward a Clean World for All – World Bank Group Support to Pollution Management
Globally, IEG found that pollution-relevant projects accounted for about 9 percent of the World Bank Group’s total portfolio, as of March 31, 2017. Over the fiscal years (FY) 04 – 07, the World Bank Group committed $43 billion in project financing for 534 pollution-relevant interventions in over 100 countries. This is a sizable portfolio. However, most of these projects support the brick-and-mortar construction of water supply, waste water and waste treatment facilities. While these are certainly needed, it should be noted that only a relatively small number of projects focused on outdoor and indoor air pollution which are responsible for the large majority of pollution-induced deaths.
Overall, IEG found that less than a third of the World Bank Group country strategies completed between fiscal years 2014 and 2017, identified the major pollution concern explicitly or addressed pollution as a priority. At national level, IEG found that very few countries are actively monitoring their pollution levels.
IEG’s findings further show that while most investments by the International Finance Corporation (IFC) in pollution-intense industries have been successful in meeting pollution prevention requirements, there is room for further improvement. About one-third of IFC client companies do not meet the relevant requirements for air emissions and wastewater.
Addressing the challenge will require countries to invest more in monitoring of pollution levels. Unfortunately, the reality is that many countries are not fully aware of the extent of the problem as they lack data, and as such, are reluctant to allocate funds to abate pollution, let alone engage institutions such as the World Bank Group. Strengthening pollution monitoring is, therefore, a critical first step to helping countries take the necessary action. Once countries become aware of just how big the problem is, they will be more likely to take action.
The World Bank Group is uniquely positioned to help countries integrate pollution into their development agenda through policy dialogue and diagnostic work, due to its field presence and ongoing rapport to government officials. The World Bank’s country-level environmental diagnostic, the Country Environmental Analyses (CEA), has been instrumental in prioritizing pollution in policy dialogue. Yet, CEAs have only been prepared for less than a third of client countries. IEG, therefore, recommends to strengthen the World Bank’s country analytical work to ensure a more comprehensive integration of the identified pollution priorities in the Systematic Country Diagnostics (SCDs) and subsequent country strategies.
In addition to supporting countries to improve their national pollution monitoring systems and using CEAs more broadly, development institutions like the World Bank Group should move to recalibrate their portfolio with a view to focusing on the specific circumstances of the poor and their exposure to pollution, including outdoor and indoor air pollution as well as specific pollution threats (for example, lead, mercury, pesticides, chromium or e-waste). But also integrating pollution aspects more systematically into other sectors, for example, urban transport and energy, would be part of such an approach.
Another way to do tackle pollution cost effectively is to leverage the attention and resources going towards climate change financing. Significant co-benefits can be gained combining or better coordinating pollution and climate change interventions.