David Malpass jumped onto the international stage three years ago when President Donald J. Trump nominated him for the position of World Bank president. He was tasked with improving the economies of poor nations, many of which are suffering from extreme weather conditions fueled by climate change.
However, Mr. Malpass barely spoke about global warming, and careful not to anger Mr Trump, who is notorious for calling climate change a “hoax” and pulling the US out of the Paris climate agreement.
This week, Mr. Malpass’s refusal to acknowledge that burning fossil fuels is rapidly warming the planet exposed a debate inside and outside the institution about whether the Bank is doing enough to help nations now grappling with devastating floods, heat and drought. and other effects, and whether its financing of new oil and gas projects exacerbates the problem.
Jochen Flasbarth, a senior German economist and one of the bank’s directors, said on Twitter “We are concerned about these confusing mentions of scientific evidence on #climatechange from the top of WorldBank.”
The uproar began on Tuesday when Mr. Malpass declined to say during a public event in The New York Times whether burning oil, gas and coal was the driver of climate change.
Speaking on stage During a discussion about what industrialized nations owe to developing nations grappling with climate problems, Mr. Malpass was asked to respond to a remark made earlier today by former Vice President Al Gore, who called the World Bank president a “climate denier.” Pressed three times, Malpass did not say whether he agreed that man-made greenhouse gas emissions had exacerbated a crisis already leading to more extreme weather.
He said, “I am not a scholar.”
The World Bank’s mission is to reduce poverty by lending money to poor countries to improve their economies and living standards. The terms of the loan are more favorable than in those countries where you can get it in the commercial market, often at low or no cost. The bank, which is owned by 187 countries, finances a wide range of projects from energy to education to public health. There is growing pressure on the Bank to do more to help countries facing climate catastrophes.
Mr. Malpass’ appearance on Tuesday caused an international fray. By Thursday, he was working hard to reiterate his views on climate change amid widespread calls for his removal.
In an interview on CNN International Thursday morning, Mr. Malpass said he accepted the overwhelming scientific conclusion that human activity is warming the planet.
Understand the controversy surrounding David Malpass
“It is clear that greenhouse gas emissions come from man-made sources, including fossil fuels,” he said. “I am not a denier.”
He also sent an internal memo on Thursday to World Bank staff writing, “It is clear that greenhouse gas emissions from human activities are causing climate change, and that the sharp increase in the use of coal, diesel and heavy fuel oil in both developed economies and developing countries is creating another wave of the climate crisis.” .
Many experts say the World Bank, led by Malpass, is not doing enough to align its lending with international efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and is moving too slowly to help poor countries deal with climate impacts. The Bank continues to fund oil and gas projects, despite the International Energy Agency’s announcement that countries must stop financing new fossil fuel development if the world has any hope of averting climate catastrophe.
Mr. Malpass’s quirks around climate science quickly became a hot topic in New York, where thousands of diplomats, policymakers and activists gathered for the United Nations General Assembly and a series of events known as Climate Week.
“This comes up because there is a real debate about how to spread all the capital in the bank faster and more aggressively given the situation the world is in,” said Rachel Kyte, dean of the Fletcher School at Tufts University. at the UN climate debate this week. “This is an open wound, and all that was from President Malpass has been disappointing.”
World Bank employees exchanged text messages lamenting that Malpass erred in his initial response on Tuesday and expressing disappointment that it undermined the bank’s work on climate initiatives, according to several people familiar with the exchanges.
Discontent within the World Bank has led to questions about whether Mr. Malpass will leave before his term ends in 2024. Although the United States is the largest shareholder in the World Bank and traditionally chooses its leader, removing Mr. Malpass before the end of his term requires the support of the Board of Governors .
Christiana Figueres, the Costa Rican diplomat who helped negotiate the Paris climate agreement as head of the United Nations climate agency, said Mr. Malpass should go.
It’s simple, Mrs. Figueres He said on Twitter Wednesday. “If you don’t understand the #climatechange threat to developing countries, you can’t lead the best international development institution in the world.”
Speaking at Wednesday’s event, Mark Carney, who is leading the UN’s efforts to get financial institutions to help reduce emissions, echoed Mr. Malpass’s comments – but with a distinctive twist. He said, “I am not a scholar.” “But I took scientific advice.”
Scott Morris, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development, said the World Bank’s climate agenda was not held back by Mr. Malpass, but his remarks emphasized the need for a more ambitious approach.
“The best we can attribute to him is that he does not appear to be actively interfering with the course the bank has taken,” Mr Morris said, adding that there was growing pressure on the bank to do more to combat climate change. “It is no longer enough that he can simply reflect on the performance of his own organization.”
Tasnim Esop, executive director of the International Climate Action Network, said the bank cannot continue to pour money into oil and gas projects, as it did under Mr. Malpass. “If the World Bank’s mandate is to eradicate poverty, it contrasts with its continued funding of fossil fuels which are a major driver of the climate crisis affecting those living in poverty the most,” she said.
Malpass’s fate has been a topic of debate within the Biden administration, with some officials wanting President Biden to seek his resignation or attempt to remove him, and others not wanting to start a new tradition that could mean World Bank leaders are replaced when the US presidency transitions.
“It’s hard for the Biden administration to simply say this isn’t our guy, we need to fire him,” Mr Morris said. “There isn’t much precedent for that.”
The Biden administration will not say on Wednesday whether it has confidence in Mr. Malpass but stressed that the institution must play a central role in the fight against climate change.
“We expect the World Bank Group to be a global leader in climate ambition and mobilize more climate finance for developing countries,” said Michael Kikukawa, a Treasury spokesperson. We have, and will continue to, articulate this expectation for the leadership of the World Bank. The World Bank must be a full partner in implementing this global agenda.”
Activists and climate experts have called for Mr. Malpass to be impeached.
“There is no place at the World Bank summit for climate deniers,” said Jules Kortenhorst, CEO of the Rocky Mountain Institute and expert on energy and climate issues. David Malpass needs to step down. The World Bank deserves a passionate leader who fully appreciates the threat that climate change poses to reducing poverty, improving living standards, and sustainable growth.”
It all came after Mr. Gore’s comments on Tuesday morning, which moved the events around. “We need to appoint a new president for the World Bank,” Gore said at the New York Times event. “It’s ridiculous for a climate denier to be president of the World Bank.”
Malpass’ efforts on Thursday did little to placate his critics.
“At this point, he is clearly trying to hold on to his job following the diplomatic warning from the US Treasury and other contributors yesterday,” said Louisa Abbott Galvão, international policy activist at Friends of the Earth. “Malpass has been making climate-denying comments for over a decade. We can’t have a situation where a World Bank president says nice things in public but works behind the scenes to block any action, and that’s exactly what we saw in his three years as World Bank president.”
Prior to assuming duties at the World Bank, Mr. Malpass was an official at the Treasury Department during the Trump administration. Not much has been said publicly about climate change in this role, despite comments from 2007 Which indicates that there is no thought to be a link between carbon emissions and global warming Environmental activists are concerned. His wife, Adele Malpass, is President of the Daily Caller News Foundationa non-profit organization closely associated with the conservative media group that often publishes articles and opinion pieces questioning climate science.
After President Biden took office, Mr. Malpass He seemed more prepared To discuss climate change openly. On their website, the bank details of her efforts To invest in renewable energy projects and fund efforts to make poor countries more resilient to severe weather.
The Treasury Department oversees the United States’ relationship with the World Bank. Treasury Secretary Janet L. Many times Mr. Malpass, and the heads of other multilateral development banks, are pleading to do more to help countries cut emissions, invest in adaptation and resilience to climate change, and align their operations with the Paris Agreement.
Mr. Malpass is expected to host an open meeting of World Bank staff next week, ahead of the annual meetings in October in Washington.