Ellen Knickmeyer
Foreign policy, national security, foreign policy & climate
EllenKnickmeyer

Climate advocates urge World Bank overhaul as leader exits

February 16, 2023 GMT
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File -World Bank Group President David Malpass speaks during the 2022 annual meeting of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank Group, Friday, Oct. 14, 2022, in Washington. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File)
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File -World Bank Group President David Malpass speaks during the 2022 annual meeting of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank Group, Friday, Oct. 14, 2022, in Washington. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) —

Leading climate figures are urging the Biden administration to use the early departure of the Trump-appointed head of the World Bank as an opening to overhaul the powerful financial institution, which has been increasingly criticized as hostile to less-wealthy nations and efforts to address climate change.

David Malpass announced Wednesday he would step down by June 30, about one year short of completing the five-year term to which President Donald Trump appointed him.

Malpass had struggled to tamp down accusations that he was a climate-denier, after a 2022 interview in which he refused to say whether he accepted that fossil fuels were changing the world’s climate, saying instead, “I’m not a scientist.”

His many critics in the United States and abroad had accused the World Bank of continuing its financial support for fossil fuel projects and failing to move quickly enough to unleash funding for switching the world’s economy from oil and coal to solar, wind and other climate-friendly renewables.

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Al Gore, a former vice president and leading environmentalist, was among those who welcomed Malpass’ announcement.

“Humankind needs the head of the World Bank to fully recognize and creatively respond to the civilization-threatening danger posed by the climate crisis. I am very happy to hear that new leadership is coming,” Gore tweeted. “This must be the first step toward true reform that places the climate crisis at the center of the bank’s work.”

Barbados government leaders at last November’s Sharm el Sheikh U.N. climate conference gathered significant global support for calls to overhaul both the World Bank and International Monetary Fund so that nations in the Global South had ways to pay for switching to renewable energy and prepare for rising seas and other climate damage without taking on crushing debt.

Sen. Ed Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, said Malpass’ support for fossil fuels and “abject failure to fund climate action” was unacceptable. “Now, the World Bank must make up for his missteps and get ready to be part of the solution for a liveable future,” Markey said in a tweet.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen credited Malpass with having made “important recent advances” to overcome the World Bank’s image as an institution unfriendly to developing-world nations and to climate progress.

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“We all must continue to raise our collective ambitions in the fight against climate change,” Yellen said in a statement.

Malpass later expressed regret for his reluctance to directly acknowledge climate change and increasingly backed climate projects in recent months.

His reluctance was criticized at the time by White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, who said the Biden administration expected the World Bank “to be a global leader of climate ambition and mobilization.”

Biden’s climate envoy, John Kerry, has been among those calling financing for a fast switch to renewable energy essential to staving off the worst scenarios of climate change, and urging big changes in how the World Bank and IMF do business.

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Created along with the International Monetary Fund as World War II moved toward a close, the World Bank is charged with providing funding to low- and middle-income countries and other entities to promote sustainable development around the world.

The U.S. traditionally picks the World Bank president, traditionally an American. Possible candidates mentioned by World Bank-watchers to succeed Malpass include Samantha Power, head of the U.S. Agency for International Development, and Rajiv Shah, a former head of USAID.