World Rainforest Movement

The Invisible Sourcebook: a ‘critical’ omission

A virtue of the 1991 Forests Policy was its simplicity. Following the shattering revelations in the 1980s about the huge areas of rainforest being destroyed in World Bank-funded projects – building dams, roads, oil wells, plantations and in colonisation and logging -the 1991 policy instructed Bank staff to stay clear of any projects that could damage primary moist tropical forests.

By contrast, the 2002 Forests Policy permits Bank funding of projects in all types of forests, except those that imply ‘significant’ clearance of ‘critical’ forests. Logging operations are to be ‘certified’ (or have a ‘time bound phased action plan’ to get certified). By ‘preference’ plantations should not be established in areas cleared of non-critical forests unless alternatives are not ‘feasible’. Just what these key words actually mean was not made very clear at the time and the Bank admitted that they could allow for a great degree of subjective judgement. To clarify how Bank staff should interpret these terms, the Bank promised to issue a ‘Forest Conservation and Management Sourcebook’, which would issue ‘good practice guidance on these and other issues’. Despite repeated promises to concerned governments, the ‘sourcebook’ has never appeared. This has left Bank staff to make up the rules as they go along.

The World Bank now has some US$ 3 billion worth of projects ‘in the pipeline’ that are affecting forests. But there is no clarity about how or whether these projects are being screened to ensure they do not impact ‘critical forests’.

By Forest Peoples Programme, e-mail:,