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Views from the Center


Robert Zoellick is off to a good start at the World Bank, as Sebastian Mallaby notes today in his Washington Post column. Bank staff are delighted with his policy pragmatism and World Bank boosterism—the view that the bank can be all things to all shareholders and stakeholders, continuing to do everything it has always done—but more so and better so. In his first Annual Meeting speech he also managed to be all things to all listeners. Mallaby and others heard him emphasize helping the losers on the dark side of globalization, while the Wall Street Journal heard him promote free trade (subscription required), though as my colleague Lawrence MacDonald noted in his report on the speech, "Zoellick never once uttered the phrase 'free trade' in the speech, although he did of course describe how the bank tries to help poor countries benefit more from trade, for example, by helping countries improve ports and meet global standards."

On two issues, however, I am disappointed—though I hope only temporarily. The first is on climate change and other global public "bads" and goods. In a new essay Arvind Subramanian and I outline the crying need for the bank to engage China, India and other rising emerging market economies in a global strategy to address new global challenges. That builds on the argument in the 2005 CGD working group report The Hardest Job in the World that the World Bank may be the only global institution with the technical and financial heft for strategic leadership in addressing climate change. The problem is that right now the bank lacks a clear mandate from its shareholders to get on with the job. And its key financial instrument, the loan to sovereign nations, is inadequate to the task.
It's a relief that Mr. Zoellick mentioned climate change in his speech, marking a turnaround from Mr. Wolfowitz' timidity—but so far the approach he outlined is far short of what the world needs the World Bank to do.
I hope Mr. Zoellick considers calling for creation at the bank of a large new Global Public Goods Trust Fund (in 2005 we suggested starting at $3 billion) , to subsidize outright energy conservation and forest preservation in the developing world, and to create incentives for private investment in new energy technologies akin to the new but still underfinanced "advance market commitment" for a pneumococcal vaccine. The fund could also jumpstart critical research and development for a Green Revolution in dryland African agriculture. The recent report of the bank's Independent Evaluation Group on the neglect of African agriculture should not lead only to more country-based lending—as bank reactions reported in the New York Times suggested. It also should inspire the bank to greatly increase support for agricultural research to develop-drought and post-resistant technologies relevant to African soils and its changing climate.
The second issue is the bank's own governance. In our 2005 report we called for the next World Bank president (then the incoming Wolfowitz, and now with two more years of stasis behind us, Mr. Zoellick), to "push the bank's member governments to make the Bank's governance more representative and thus more legitimate." That involves at least two steps I hope Mr. Zoellick will consider, if not at this Annual Meeting, then by the time of next year's: asking the Board to formalize a process for choosing the Bank's next president that is open, merit-based, and independent of any nationality requirement; and asking the Bank's governors (the finance ministers who represent its member governments) to announce an independent and public assessment of options for changing voting power to ensure greater representation of developing countries.
The question is not whether Mr. Zoellick will be a good World Bank president. On that question there appears to be little doubt. The question is whether he will go down as a great World Bank president. That requires, as I wrote with Arvind, that he heed the counsel offered to the Sicilian Prince in Lampedusa's great novel, The Leopard: "If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change."

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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.