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Trump-appointed World Bank president under fire for climate change waffling

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The Biden administration is reportedly considering replacing World Bank President David Malpass, who was appointed by then-President Donald Trump in 2019, for his reluctance to accept the science of climate change, but Malpass said he would not resign, leading to a potential confrontation with control of the international lender.

Concerns about Malpass’s climate convictions date back to the time of his appointment, when critics noted that Malpass – then a Treasury official – promoted claims about historical global warming that scientists have widely disproved.

David Malpass

David Malpass, president of the World Bank, at an economic forum in Moran, Wyo, August 26 (David Paul Morris/BloombergPaul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

But the current spat began on Wednesday when former Vice President Al Gore was He said at the New York Times event“We need to appoint a new president for the World Bank. It is ridiculous for a climate denier to be president of the World Bank.”

At an event later the same day, Times reporter David Gillis asked Malpass on stage to respond to Gore’s comments. But Malpass avoided addressing the problem directly. When I follow Gillis with the question, “Do you accept the scientific consensus that burning man-made fossil fuels is warming the planet rapidly and dangerously?”

Malpass gave an answer long-favored by Republicans: “I don’t even know — I’m not a scientist and that’s not a question so…what we need to do is move forward with impactful projects,” He said.

Climate activists and diplomats were quick to condemn Malpass’s comments. “It’s easy. If you don’t understand the threat # Climate change To developing countries, you cannot lead the best international development institution in the world,” Christiana Figueres tweetedwho led the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement negotiations as Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

This isn’t the first time someone has called for Malpass to be overthrown. In October 2021, a coalition of 77 environmental groups including Friends of the Earth sent a letter to World Bank governors and executives requesting a replacement for Malpass. Activists argued that the World Bank should stop lending money to fossil fuel projects.

Al Gore

Former vice president and environmental activist Al Gore at the United Nations Climate Summit in Glasgow, Scotland, November 5, 2021 (Paul Ellis/AFP via Getty Images)

“Since the Paris Agreement, the World Bank has provided $12 billion in direct project financing for fossil fuels, more than any other multilateral development bank,” the two groups wrote. “The figure does not include billions more to subsidize fossil fuels through policy-based lending and financial intermediaries.”

Friends of the Earth and other environmental organizations reiterated their opposition to Malpass on Thursday. “The World Bank’s investments in Africa continue to fuel the effects of the climate crisis afflicting communities across the continent,” said Dean Bikomozi Behba, of Power Shift Africa. There is no time to deny the climate. The World Bank must act now to end all fossil fuel financing and invest in sustainable renewable energy for all.”

On Thursday, Malpass went on CNN and changed his answer. “It is clear that greenhouse gas emissions come from man-made sources, including fossil fuels, methane, agricultural uses and industrial uses,” he said. “So we are working hard to change that.”

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In a note to World Bank staff obtained by Reuters, Malpass said that “a 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.”

On Friday, Malpass told the Wall Street Journal that he has no plans to resign. “It is clear that greenhouse gas emissions from human activity are increasing and causing climate change,” Malpass told the newspaper.

Steam rises from the cooling towers of coal-fired power plants in Niederaussem on August 2, 2022 near Niederaussem, Germany.  (Andreas Rentz/Getty Images)

Steam rises from the cooling towers of coal-fired power plants in Niederaussem on August 2, 2022 near Niederaussem, Germany. (Andreas Rentz/Getty Images)

A World Bank spokesperson told Reuters the bank has limited funding for coal-fired power plants and oil and gas exploration. But the news service noted that the World Bank “has so far resisted pressure from European board members and climate activists to phase out fossil fuel financing entirely”. Last year, the bank invested $620 million in a liquefied natural gas project in Mozambique.

That wasn’t enough to quell the controversy. On Friday morning, Axios reported that the White House is considering how to remove Malpass. As the largest shareholder in the World Bank, the United States appoints the president of the bank. However, the president of the bank usually serves a five-year term, not to please the president of the United States. The removal of Malpass would be the prerogative of the bank’s Board of Executive Directors, which are not under the Biden administration.

Citing unnamed administrative sources, Axios reported that the White House has discussed the possibility of appointing Gore, special presidential climate envoy John Kerry or former New York City mayor Mike Bloomberg to replace Malpass. The developing world has previously called for the World Bank – which finances development in those countries – to be led by someone from one of these countries.

“The options include Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, a Nigerian-American economist who now heads the World Trade Organization, and Minosh Shafik, an Egyptian-born British-American economist and director of the London School of Economics,” Axios reported.

Nigozi Okonjo-Iweala stands at her home in Potomac, Maryland, near Washington, DC, minutes before she was confirmed Monday as the first woman and first African leader of the embattled World Trade Organization, on February 15, 2021 (Eric Baradat/AFP via Getty Images)

Nigerian Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala poses for a photo at her home in Potomac, Maryland, near Washington, DC, minutes before she was confirmed Monday as the first woman and first African leader of the embattled World Trade Organization, on February 15, 2021. Baradat/AFP via Getty Images)

Malpass may also have some accusations against him: he was hired by a president who wrongly called climate change a “hoax,” and his wife is the chair of the Daily Caller News Foundation. The Daily Caller is a right-wing tabloid website that has published stories that cast doubt on climate science.

At the time of his appointment, there were widespread concerns that he might undermine or roll back World Bank money-lending programs for clean energy or climate change adaptation and resilience, but he quickly demonstrated that he had no intention of doing so. However, advocates of tougher climate action want the World Bank to pair those efforts with phasing out lending that causes new emissions of greenhouse gases.

Asked about the controversy during a press conference at the White House on Friday, Biden’s press secretary said Karen Jean-Pierre said: “We disagree with the comments made by President Malpass. We expect the World Bank to be a global leader in climate ambition and mobilization as well.” she I will not say Whether Biden still trusts Malpass.

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