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World Bank President David Malpass speaks at the Concordia Annual Summit on September 19, 2022 in New York City.

World Bank President David Malpass speaks at the Concordia Annual Summit on September 19, 2022 in New York City. (Photo: Leigh Vogel/Getty Images for Concordia Summit)

House Dems Urge Biden to Push for Removal of Climate-Denying World Bank President

"We need a World Bank Group leader who fully appreciates the threat of climate change and the need to accelerate the global transition to a clean just energy future to improve living standards, reduce poverty, and encourage sustainable growth."

Kenny Stancil

Over two dozen House Democrats sent a letter Thursday urging U.S. President Joe Biden to "advocate for the removal or forced resignation" of World Bank president David Malpass, who has come under fire for his recent refusal to acknowledge the indisputable connection between planet-heating fossil fuel emissions and increasingly catastrophic wildfires, hurricanes, and droughts.

"People and governments now more than ever need a World Bank leader who listens to the science and is a global leader in combating climate change."

Last week, when asked at a climate policy summit whether he accepts the scientific consensus that the burning of coal, oil, and gas is driving rapid and life-threatening global warming, Malpass—nominated to lead the World Bank in 2019 by then-U.S. President Donald Trump—declined to answer, saying: "I don't even know. I'm not a scientist."

The comment, which seemingly proved former U.S. Vice President Al Gore's allegation, made hours earlier at the same event, that the World Bank chief is a "climate denier," set off a firestorm of reaction. Over the past week, climate justice campaigners have rallied to demand that Malpass be replaced with someone who will do more to finance clean energy projects in developing countries.

In their letter, which amplifies the growing chorus calling for Malpass to be fired, the lawmakers characterized Malpass' remarks as "unacceptable."

"The policy and programming of the World Bank Group needs to be fully based on the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and aligned with the goals of the Paris agreement," they wrote, referring to the effort to limit global temperature rise to 1.5°C above preindustrial levels to avert the deadliest consequences of the climate emergency.

"People and governments now more than ever need a World Bank leader who listens to the science and is a global leader in combating climate change and adapting to the impacts that are unavoidable," says the letter, which was led by Reps. Jared Huffman (Calif.) and Sean Casten (Ill.).

Signatories include Reps. Jesús "Chuy" García (Ill.), Rashida Tlaib (Mich.), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.), Raúl M. Grijalva (N.M.), Jamaal Bowman (N.Y.), Pramila Jayapal (Wash.), Raja Krishnamoorthi (Ill.), and Ayanna Pressley (Mass.).

In an effort at damage control, Malpass last Thursday apologized and tried to walk back his non-answer, telling CNN: "It's clear that greenhouse gas emissions are coming from man-made sources, including fossil fuels... I'm not a denier." He also indicated that he has no plans to resign.

But Malpass' apology hardly makes up for his lackluster record at the helm of the world's most powerful multilateral development bank (MDB), critics have stressed. For instance, the $31.7 billion that Malpass says the World Bank allocated to climate finance in 2021 is a small fraction of the trillions of dollars in green investment the IPCC says is needed each year to secure a livable planet.

Moreover, while the World Bank told Bloomberg last week that it "is the largest multilateral funder of climate investments in developing countries," reporting by the Financial Times following last year's COP26 meeting revealed that Malpass was directly involved in watering down a joint announcement by MDBs on climate lending at the United Nations conference.

As Bronwen Tucker of Oil Change International pointed out recently, "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."

This point was echoed in Thursday's letter from House Democrats:

Since the Paris Agreement, the World Bank Group has provided over $14 billion in project financing to the fossil fuel industry, more than any other multilateral development bank. The figure does not include billions more in support to fossil fuels through policy-based lending and financial intermediaries. One of the most troubling sectors where the funding for climate-destroying fossil fuels continues unchecked is international fossil fuel financing for development projects, further continuing the reliance on fossil fuel with damaging results to communities and countries' economies.

Furthermore, the data is clear that the markets are shifting away from fossil fuels towards cleaner, cheaper sources. Renewables outperform fossil fuel investments, and the cost of capital remains lower for renewable energy companies than fossil fuel companies. For example, First Solar is trading at a price/earnings ratio more than 10x higher than Shell and Tesla is trading similarly in comparison to Exxon. Capital markets understand the impacts of climate change, but they are leaving behind regions that depend on fossil fuel extraction. The World Bank is uniquely positioned to respond to this, through the prudent redirection of capital, away from those assets that are contributing to the problem and towards those resources that help solve the problem while still helping humanity meet their energy needs.

Bloomberg, citing an unnamed senior official in the Biden administration, reported last week that Malpass' September 20 statement "raised eyebrows within the White House and... the administration was planning to look more closely at the matter."

According to Axios, Malpass' ignorance of or indifference to the causes of anthropogenic climate change "provides ammunition to officials who want Biden to spend some political capital to attempt to remove him. But officials know that replacing Malpass would be a messy process and they are unsure how—or even if—the U.S. can orchestrate his ouster."

Although Biden doesn't have the authority to remove Malpass before his term ends in 2024, he can request his resignation or work with other shareholders—the World Bank is owned by the governments of its member nations—to pressure the board of directors to fire him.

In their letter, House Democrats reminded Biden that "the United States is the largest shareholder in the World Bank, and our influence can determine the direction of their investments for years to come."

"The United States has significant influence to push the institutions to end their support for fossil fuel investments and significantly increase the quality and quantity of their climate finance," the lawmakers wrote. "We must pursue bold steps, both at home and through our investments abroad, to avoid the most disastrous impacts of the climate crisis and transition toward clean energy."

"The World Bank Group must be a global leader of responsible and sustainable financing for developing countries and it is unacceptable for David Malpass, as president [of] this leading international development institution, to be so brazenly ignorant toward the impacts of the climate crisis," they continued.

"We need a World Bank Group leader," they added, "who fully appreciates the threat of climate change and the need to accelerate the global transition to a clean just energy future to improve living standards, reduce poverty, and encourage sustainable growth."

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