Green Structural Adjustment

You might have heard about the ‘structural adjustment’ program, but what about the Green Structural Adjustment of the World Bank’s Resilient City program?

We’re talking with Sophie Webber and Patrick Bigger about what they call Green Structural Adjustment.

Within environmental and development finance practices, cities across the Global South are facing a costly infrastructural crisis stemming from rapid urbanisation and climate change. This threatens to further entrench poverty and precarity for millions of people.

The cost of achieving urban resilience across the world dwarfs available public finance, however, from both development banks and governments themselves. Meanwhile, vast amounts of money on capital markets are searching for profitable investment opportunities. The World Bank is attempting to channel return-seeking investment into urban infrastructure in response to these challenges.

To harness this private finance, though, cities must be reformatted in investment-friendly ways. In a recent article, Sophie and Patrick chart the emergence of this discourse and associated practices within the World Bank. They call this rescaled and climate-inflected program of leveraged investments coupled with technical assistance Green Structural Adjustment.

Drawing on policy documents, reports, and interviews with key staff, they examine programs that include Green Structural Adjustment to show how it aims to restructure local governments to capture new financial flows. Green Structural Adjustment reduces adaptation to a question of infrastructure finance and government capacity building, reinscribing both causes and effects of uneven development while creating spatial fixes for over-accumulated Northern capital in the Global South.


Dr Sophie Webber is a human geographer, who conducts research about the political economies of climate change and international development assistance, principally in South East Asia and the Pacific region. In particular, Sophie studies how ‘truth’ (knowledge claims and expertise), ‘capital’ (financial flows and investments), and policy packages structure relations between the minority and majority worlds. Methodologically, this research requires relational fieldwork, examining how climatological and developmental crises and problems are interpreted, storied, and managed, both by local and governmental authorities, as well as by distant international experts such as the World Bank.

Dr Patrick Bigger is a lecturer in the critical geographies group within LEC. His research examines the ways in which financial actors and their logics and practices are being brought to bear on diverse, but interrelated, environmental crises. Conceptually, his interests include the relationships between environmental-financial products and environmental regulations/regulators; how environmental-financial products fit into broader trends in finance; and how environmental finance values (including, but beyond price) the nature it is attempting to protect. His work focuses primarily on climate change mitigation and adaptation, but also touches on associated environmental problems, particularly biodiversity loss through land use changes.


Green Structural Adjustment in the World Bank’s Resilient City

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