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World Bank president faces confrontational questions

Robert Zoellick, the current president of the World Bank, answered questions on topics ranging from the Iraq War to environmentalism.  (credit: Courtesy of Simone D. McCourtie / World Bank ) Robert Zoellick, the current president of the World Bank, answered questions on topics ranging from the Iraq War to environmentalism. (credit: Courtesy of Simone D. McCourtie / World Bank )

World Bank Group president Robert B. Zoellick spoke at Kresge Theatre last Thursday as part of the university’s Thomas M. Kerr, Jr. Prelaw Society’s annual lecture.

The event was co-sponsored by the Center for International Relations and Politics and the global studies major.

The moderator for Zoellick’s address was social and decision sciences professor Kiron Skinner.

While the event was technically part of the pre-law program, Skinner and Joseph Devine, Associate Dean of Undergraduate Studies at the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences, emphasized that bringing Zoellick to Carnegie Mellon was a joint effort among several different parties.

“Our pre-law program is quite proud of our expanded mission, but to command the kind of gravitas that would enable us to attract a speaker of the type and stature as our guest today, we needed to partner with a more nationally visible entity and persona,” Devine said. “Fortunately, we had both in our Center for International Relations, with which we are co-sponsoring today’s event, and its director, Dr. Kiron Skinner.”

“Mr. Zoellick brings a truly global perspective to issues related to the intersection of politics, culture, markets, and technology,” Skinner said in a university press release.

The event was mostly a question and answer session between audience members and Zoellick.

A large crowd of people lined up to ask Zoellick questions, ranging from University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon undergraduates to a former U.S. executive director at the World Bank.

The majority of questions related to environmental or human rights issues, some of which took on a confrontational tone.

One student asked if Zoellick understood the concept of self-determination, and if so, whether he regretted supporting the Iraq War.

Throughout the questions, Zoellick emphasized that the World Bank seeks to solve problems by providing economic incentives, rather than by forcing governments to take certain actions.

“I don’t tell countries what to do,” Zoellick said. “Our primary way of helping countries and companies is showing them what’s in their best interest in the long run.”

One topic that came up frequently was climate change.

Many students felt that Zoellick was not doing enough to prevent carbon emissions, deforestation, and other environmentally harmful activities. However, near the beginning of the talk, Skinner and Zoellick made a point of discussing how the World Bank’s strategy can encourage environmentally friendly practices.

“The role of the bank is to connect issues of development and growth with the climate change agenda, and in some instances, we’ve been more successful than the environmental negotiations,” Zoellick said. “We’ve done projects in 45 developing countries that range from technology to energy efficiency to deforestation, and these projects are on the ground examples of how to make the issues work.”

Nevertheless, many in the audience asked Zoellick why he was reluctant to take regulatory action with regards to carbon emissions.

“If I create an incentive system to arbitrate so that somebody can pay companies to produce the carbon elsewhere, and it’s a net benefit, that’s a good thing,” Zoellick responded. “But if you try to deal with the world of carbon production in a command and control regulatory way, you’re not going to be successful.”

Despite the occasionally confrontational tone of the forum, many students left with a positive impression.

“It was enlightening to hear his comments and be aware of the varied activities carried out by the World Bank,” said Satyam Bakliwal, a master’s student in business administration. “When the political process isn’t capable of offering the most efficient ways of dealing with the above concerns, the World Bank is in a powerful place to do so, and that is the hope.”