This Funder Has the Sierra Club's Back as It Takes on the World Bank

Founded in 1944 to help rebuild post-World War II Europe, the World Bank helps low and middle income countries with development assistance. It touts its lending efforts as “pro-poor growth.” The bank acknowledges that climate change is real. “The sooner we act, the better chance we have of addressing it at a lower cost.” It has committed to funding coal-fired power plants only in “rare circumstances.”  

However, the bank’s rhetoric is not matched by its action. In an analysis released in April 2015, Oil Change International tallied $3.4 billion in loans, grants, guarantees and other financial support for fossil fuel energy in the 2013-2014 financial year, including for coal. Funding rose 23 percent compared to the year before and was the biggest total in four years. Studies by Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change show that climate change will have its biggest impact on the poorest countries, undermining the World Bank’s stated goal of alleviating poverty.  

All of which explains why the Sierra Club has been blasting away at the World Bank on Twitter, Facebook, the World Bank’s blog, even with a day of rallies outside of the bank’s headquarters in Paris, Berlin, Zagreb, and elsewhere.

And the Sierra Club has a strong ally in the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, which recently made a grant of $150,000 to back its International Financial Institution Reform Project. That brings Mott's total support of this work to $507,000 since 2011. The project is intended to push the World Bank to abandon its funding of fossil fuel energy projects, to reform export credits in the United States along the same lines, and to educate decision makers about the impact of additional fossil fuel development. It’s also intended to address the energy needs of the poor, which are often overlooked by large-scale energy development. The Sierra Club is a big advocate of off-grid renewable energy for the rural poor.

The Sierra Club is on a roll right now, with its anti-fossil fuel efforts. Its Beyond Coal Campaign, heavily financed by Bloomberg Philanthropies, has led to the retirement of 184 coal-fired power plants. Can it succeed at the same level globally? Some funders hope so. 

Mott is probably best known for environmental funding that focuses on the Great Lakes and eco systems local to this Michigan-based funder. But it also works on environmental challenges globally, including climate change, and is a leader in the crucial niche of changing development finance as it relates to the environment. Mott's aim is to "ensure that energy and infrastructure projects respect and protect the environment, deliver long-lasting benefits to communities, and reflect the voices of those living in the projects’ shadows."

A stated aim of Mott's recent grant to the Sierra Club Foundation is to fund alliances between the foundation and local environmental and other nongovernmental organizations in countries impacted by fossil fuel energy development. The Sierra Club Foundation is doing so by offering partnership grants to international organizations. It has been giving financial support to organizations in Kosovo to block the building of a coal fired power plant funded by the World Bank. The Sierra Club Foundation sees the effort a key test of the World Bank's committment to stop funding coal, the dirtiest fossil fuel.