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Activists display a banner describing World Bank President David Malpass as a climate denier in front of the bank's headquarters in Washington, D.C. on September 22, 2022.

Activists display a banner describing World Bank President David Malpass as a climate denier in front of the bank's headquarters in Washington, D.C. on September 22, 2022. (Photo: Kevin Wolf/AP Images for Glasgow Actions Team)

Groups Demand Ouster of 'Climate Denier' Leading World Bank

"The World Bank must not be led by a climate denier and President Biden should call on the bank's board to fire David Malpass immediately," said one advocate.

Kenny Stancil

Climate justice campaigners are ramping up pressure on the World Bank to fire its president, David Malpass, after he refused to acknowledge that burning fossil fuels causes the planet-heating pollution underlying increasingly frequent and intense extreme weather disasters around the globe.

Activists on Thursday unfurled a banner in front of the institution's building in Washington, D.C. that labels Malpass a "climate denier" and called on U.S. President Joe Biden and other leaders to ditch the World Bank chief.

"A self-pronounced climate denier at the helm of the World Bank at this stage of the climate emergency is inexcusable!" Climate Action Network executive director Tasneem Essop said Wednesday in a statement.

"The World Bank continues to use public money to finance fossil fuel projects in Global South countries where people are already suffering the worst impacts of climate change, said Essop. "For the World Bank to maintain any shred of decency, Malpass cannot remain as president."

"There is no time for climate denialism."

When asked at a Tuesday event whether he accepts the scientific consensus that fossil fuel emissions are driving rapid and dangerous global warming, Malpass refused, declaring: "I don't know. I'm not a scientist."

The non-answer validated former U.S. Vice President Al Gore's contention, made earlier that day at the same event, that Malpass is a "climate denier." Gore urged Biden to do everything in his power to replace Malpass—leader of the World Bank since then-U.S. President Donald Trump appointed him in 2019—with someone who will do more to finance clean energy projects in developing countries.

Although Biden doesn't have the authority to remove Malpass before his term ends in 2024, he can request his resignation or collaborate with other shareholders—the World Bank is owned by the governments of its member nations—to push the board of directors to fire him. As the bank's largest shareholder, the U.S. exerts significant influence over the organization and its operations.

In the words of Oil Change International, ousting Malpass is "the only acceptable response" to his climate change denialism, which is precisely what it and more than 40 other groups in the Big Shift Global coalition are demanding.

"The World Bank must not be led by a climate denier and President Biden should call on the bank's board to fire him immediately," Luisa Galvao of Friends of the Earth U.S. said Wednesday. "The ancient agreement where the United States nominates bank presidents also needs to end. We need democratic and globally equitable governance."

Bloomberg, citing an unnamed senior official in the Biden administration, reported Wednesday that Malpass' recent comments "have raised eyebrows within the White House and... the administration was planning to look more closely at the matter."

The Treasury Department also weighed in, saying in a statement: "We expect the World Bank Group to be a global leader of climate ambition and the mobilization of significantly more climate finance for developing countries. We have—and will continue—to make that expectation clear to World Bank leadership. The World Bank must be a full partner in delivering on this global agenda."

"The World Bank Group cannot align its portfolio with the Paris agreement goal of keeping global warming below 1.5ºC with a climate change denier at its helm!"

Sonia Dunlop, program lead on multilateral development banks and public banks at the E3G think tank, called Malpass' refusal to accept the reality of the climate crisis "a step too far."

"It is time for the White House and governments all over the world to think hard as to who they want at the helm of the World Bank," said Dunlop. "The World Bank is critical to the global fight against climate change. You don't need to be a scientist to understand climate science. The facts are clear, and there's no alternative but to act."

Malpass has drawn the ire of progressives since he was nominated to lead the World Bank by Trump, with advocates predicting that his reign would be defined by climate policy failures. Last year, more than 70 groups from around the world sent a letter imploring World Bank governors and executive directors to terminate Malpass over climate inaction.

Soon after, a World Bank staffer wrote in a blistering opinion piece that Malpass "has neither the vision nor credibility to make the World Bank a climate leader," and the climate adviser to United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres blasted the World Bank for being "an ongoing underperformer" on climate.

In an attempt to defend his record on Tuesday, Malpass said the World Bank directed $31.7 billion to climate finance in 2021, with half of it aimed at bolstering adaptation efforts.

Not only is that a tiny fraction of the trillions of dollars in green investment the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says is needed each year to maintain a habitable planet, but according to reporting by the Financial Times, Malpass was directly involved in weakening multilateral development banks' (MDBs) joint announcement on climate lending at COP26.

While the World Bank told Bloomberg earlier this week that it "is the largest multilateral funder of climate investments in developing countries," Bronwen Tucker of Oil Change International pointed out Wednesday that "the World Bank Group still funds more fossil fuels than any other MDB, and they continue to lock Global South countries into expensive and volatile fossil fuel contracts through their heavy-handed policy lending programs."

"Given Malpass' climate crisis denial stance, it is no wonder the World Bank provides more finance, tax breaks, and higher tariffs to benefit fossil fuels than any other public development bank," said Heike Mainhardt, senior advisor with Urgewald.

"We stand with U.N. leadership and call on the World Bank's shareholders to step in—to stop the World Bank's public funding of fossil fuels," Mainhardt added, referring to a plea Guterres repeated Tuesday during his opening remarks at this year's General Assembly.

"Every day that Malpass serves as World Bank president is a missed opportunity to tackle climate chaos."

Jake Hess, a former researcher at the World Bank turned whistleblower who now works with Glasgow Actions Team, called it "deeply irresponsible for World Bank shareholders, and especially the Biden administration, to allow a climate denier to run this vital institution."

"Every day that Malpass serves as World Bank president is a missed opportunity to tackle climate chaos," Hess said Thursday in a statement. "Joe Biden should have sacked him on day one, but it's never too late to do the right thing."

"If the U.S. and Europeans are serious about climate action, they should prove it by pushing Malpass out of the World Bank," he added. "Climate advocates have warned about Malpass from the very beginning of his tenure, and now is the perfect time for World Bank decision-makers to listen."

Dean Bhekumuzi Bhebhe of Power Shift Africa stressed that "the investments by the World Bank in Africa continue to fuel the impacts of the climate crisis experienced by communities across the continent."

"There is no time for climate denialism," Bhebhe continued. "The World Bank must act now to end all fossil fuel finance and invest in sustainable, renewable energy for all. It is critical Africa attracts increased investments to leapfrog dirty energy and become a green leader and not just a victim of the climate emergency."

Fran Witt of Recourse noted that "the World Bank Group cannot align its portfolio with the Paris agreement goal of keeping global warming below 1.5ºC with a climate change denier at its helm! Malpass must go!"

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