"Our Land, Our Decision": Kosovo Protests World Bank and U.S. Plans for New Coal

Co-written by Nezir Sinani of the Kosovar Institute for Development Policy.

While the U.S. has stopped building new coal plants and has rejected 166 proposed coal plants in the past decade, some of our government institutions are, inexplicably, trying to force new coal plants on other countries. In Europe, local Kosovars are fed up with an increasingly corrupt process to push forward an unnecessary and polluting new coal-fired power plant. They are sick and tired of being steamrolled by the World Bank and U.S. government, which came to the country with a decade-old project in tow that they refuse to update to reflect 21st century realities.

This refusal is all the more damning with recent allegations of corruption being heaped upon this already controversial project. With official venues for communication broken, locals have decided they have no option but to resort to protest. On March 30, the people of Obiliq gathered with civil society organizations to protest the inherent corruption driving the environmental and health impacts their town will face if the plant is built. (The photos in this post are from today's protest.)

The final straw came in response to allegations of corruption leveled by a local political party Alliance for the Future of Kosovo. These allegations apparently forced two companies that were pre-qualified to withdraw from the process. This should have given authorities pause. Instead, on the very same day, the World Bank announced its support, in principle, for the project. Locals were speechless.

These allegations came on the heels of a broken process, including the failure to make available two key documents -- a "Poverty Reduction Strategy" and a "Country Partnership Strategy." These are documents that determine the nature of World Bank investments for any country and are supposed to be developed in consultation with local communities. But apparently, when you have a pre-determined end goal already mapped out (an outdated, dirty and expensive new coal plant) that becomes a bit of a pesky matter.

The World Bank has moved quickly to rectify this problem, but has still already announced its intention to fund this project without consultation. Thirteen civil society organizations pointed this out in a letter to the World Bank and requested that support for the new coal plant be withdrawn so they, not the World Bank or the U.S. government, could decide on their future.

In addition to corruption and a broken process, experts have conclusively shown that Kosovo does not even need a polluting new coal plant, and that if it is built it will dramatically raise electricity prices for average citizens. It will also saddle this tiny country with $1.3 billion in debt at a time when the financial crisis is raging across Europe.

On top of that, the World Bank's own former Chief Technical Specialist for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency, Dan Kammen, has shown that low carbon alternatives are actually the low-cost, high-job impact option. He is now publicly questioning why the Bank and U.S. Treasury continue to push for a new coal plant given these facts.

The problem is this information has not caused the World Bank or the U.S. government to reevaluate their plans. Instead, the World Bank released a report acknowledging many of the critiques, but still doggedly insisting that the new coal plant move forward.

On March 30, residents of one of Europe's smallest and poorest nations protested this broken process to say this is our land, and this should be our decision.

As the U.S. says no to new coal plants, we must also support our brothers and sisters abroad who are doing the same, and who are saying yes to a clean energy future.

Photos by Nazim Haliti