Facing calls to resign, World Bank president changes answer on climate crisis

Under pressure to resign for declining to say whether he accepts the scientific consensus on global warming, World Bank President David Malpass said on Thursday it was clear greenhouse emissions are causing climate change and defended his record as bank chief.

Malpass sought to restate his views in a note to staff and an interview on CNN International, during which he was asked if he was a climate change denier. His views drew scrutiny after he refused to say during a public event this week whether he believes fossil fuel burning is warming the planet.

“I’m not a denier,” Malpass told CNN International.

“It’s clear that greenhouse gas emissions are coming from manmade sources, including fossil fuels, methane, the agricultural uses, the industrial uses, so we’re working hard to change that,” Malpass said.

Malpass has long faced criticism from climate advocates, who renewed calls on U.S. President Joe Biden to replace him. His remarks at a climate event hosted by the New York Times on Tuesday also rekindled concerns about the bank’s lack of a deadline to stop funding fossil fuels.

Malpass, shown in 2020, has long faced criticism from climate advocates, who have renewed calls on President Joe Biden to replace him. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)

Speaking onstage during a panel on climate finance, Malpass was asked several times whether he believes the “manmade burning of fossil fuels is rapidly and dangerously warming the planet.” He tried to dodge the question before saying: “I don’t even know. I’m not a scientist.”

On Friday, Malpass said none of the global development bank’s shareholders have asked him to resign in the wake of the criticism around whether he accepts the scientific consensus on global warming.

He told Politico it was “unfortunate” that he responded as he did during the event in New York and reiterated that he believed human activity caused climate change, while defending the bank’s “forceful leadership” on climate change.

Nominated by Trump

The president of the United States, the largest World Bank shareholder, traditionally nominates World Bank presidents, subject to confirmation by the bank’s board. Former president Donald Trump nominated Malpass to a five-year term in 2019.

Biden, in New York for the United Nations General Assembly, did not respond when reporters asked him if he has confidence in Malpass. The White House has not commented on the controversy.

Sources following the issue said the Biden administration had thus far not wanted to remove Malpass before his term expires in early 2024, but that his comments this week could change that calculus, despite his efforts to “clarify” his views.

In a note to World Bank staff, seen by Reuters, Malpass said the “sharp increase in the use of coal, diesel, and heavy fuel oil in both advanced economies and developing countries is creating another wave of the climate crisis.”

He added: “Anything seen in a different light is incorrect and regrettable.”

Activists and former climate advocates worry the Bank is falling short on climate action. Last year, over 70 non-governmental organizations jointly called for Malpass to be replaced, citing a lack of action.

The World Bank has not made any coal investments since 2010, a spokesperson said, and its board agreed in 2013 to limit financing of coal-fired power plants. In 2019, the Bank stopped funding upstream oil and gas operations.

But it has so far resisted pressure from European board members and climate campaigners to phase out fossil fuel financing entirely.

Investment in natural gas project

In January last year, the Bank’s board approved a $620 million investment in a multibillion-dollar liquified natural gas project in Mozambique, drawing criticism from climate activists.

Asked for comment on Malpass’s Tuesday remarks, a spokesperson for Canadian Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland said that the World Bank plays a crucial role in driving climate change action.

“(The) World Bank leadership must fully stand behind this global initiative,” the spokesperson, Adrienne Vaupshas, said.

U.S. lawmaker Maxine Waters, head of the House of Representatives’ financial services committee, said Malpass’s comments call into question the World Bank’s commitment to addressing climate change.

This, “in turn, threatens the Bank’s relevance in every other area, including its mission to alleviate poverty and promote sustainable growth,” Waters said.

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