World Bank President’s Climate Stance Incites Furor

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A top climate advisor to US President Joe Biden pointedly criticized the US head of the World Bank on Friday for the latter's apparent reluctance to acknowledge anthropogenic climate change, punctuating arguments from environmental groups that the bank hasn’t moved quickly enough to tackle global warming and its impacts.

The controversy was touched off when former US Vice President Al Gore reportedly called for David Malpass to be replaced over his climate skepticism early in the week.

Malpass was asked on stage if he believed man-made fossil fuel combustion was contributing to climate change. Instead of answering the question, Malpass demurred and said he was not a scientist.

“The American public, I think, is on board with getting on the project of building a safer and better future. And it’s time for leaders to catch up,” White House climate adviser John Podesta said Friday at the Global Clean Energy Action Forum in Pittsburgh. “I would say it’s particularly time for a leader of an organization that is responsive to billions of poor people around the world to not mince words about the fact that the science is real.”

Podesta’s remarks came after a concerted effort by Malpass to walk back his remarks.

“We are making a forceful leadership job by the World Bank on climate,” Malpass said in an online interview with Politico on Friday. “When asked ‘are you a climate denier?' I should have said no.”

The US is the bank's largest shareholder and has an outsized impact on its policy and leadership. The Biden administration is reportedly considering whether to oust him as president, according to Axios.

Malpass was appointed for a five-year term by former US President Donald Trump in 2019.

Malpass has been warily eyed by environmental groups for years. Prior to being nominated to serve as World Bank President, he was an economic advisor to Trump's election campaign and the Department of the Treasury’s Under Secretary for International Affairs, where he worked on LNG projects.

“We were heavily against his nomination in the first place, for approximately these reasons,” said Collin Rees at Oil Change International on Friday. “What we saw this week was a particularly poignant misstep.”

During Malpass’ tenure, the Trump administration put proposals to the World Bank board that would have blocked the bank from “discriminating” amongst fuel types — an effort to push back against earlier pledges to end fossil fuel financing.

That effort is echoed today by contemporary “anti-ESG” policies from state-level Republican officials. Early in Malpass’ tenure, US Republican lawmakers threatened to withdraw Washington’s funding for the World Bank over pledges to end fossil fuel financing.

Policy and Regulation, ESG, Low-Carbon Policy
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