How Al Gore Helped Green the World Bank: A Personal and Professional Appreciation

October 13, 2007
Leaders create news as they stake out new territory, and they also create turbulence that can be harnessed by institutional reformers when conditions are right. The conditions were undoubtedly right at the World Bank in 1992. Then Senator Gore had just published Earth in the Balance: Ecology and the Human Spirit. The bank, meanwhile, was badly bruised from a spate of missteps and terrible publicity on the environment; Greenpeace was calling the world’s leading development organization "Bankenstein." Seeking ways to repair the damage, bank president Lewis Preston readily agreed to meet with Gore when a group of internal reformers (including yours truly) proposed inviting him for a visit. Gore joined us for a memorable day, including an SRO performance for bank staff. More than any other single event, his visit set in motion the dawn of a new environmental era at the Bank. For the internal reformers, it provided a badly needed morale-booster and justification for insisting on badly needed resources for our work. Resources were indeed forthcoming; many Bank environmentalists moved into influential jobs; and the institution adopted much stronger environmental policies under Preston’s successor, James Wolfensohn. Flash forward 15 years, and we have more progressive turbulence from Al Gore. An Inconvenient Truth has had a big impact on the Bank—much of it, I suspect, via family pressure on non-environmental staff members. Suddenly climate change work is all the rage there, with the active encouragement of the new president Robert Zoellick. And for this writer, as for many colleagues at CGD and other DC think tanks, Al Gore has once again created big maneuver space by winning the Nobel Peace Prize (along with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change). Capitol Hill is finally moving on climate change in response to rising public demand for action spurred in large part by Gore’s work. So, a heartfelt thanks and congratulations to you on your much-deserved Nobel Prize, Al. You’ve once again put a strong wind in our sails!


CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.