Climate action groups around the world are calling for World Bank President David Malpass to resign after he refused to answer a question around the cause of the climate crisis.
At a panel discussion on Tuesday, Malpass dodged a question over whether he accepted the scientific consensus that humans burning fossil fuels were “rapidly and dangerously warming the planet.”
“I don’t even know – I’m not a scientist and that is not a question,” Malpass responded when asked at the discussion, held by the New York Times at Climate Week in New York City. The moderator, David Gelles, then prodded him again, asking, “Will you answer the question?”
Malpass replied: “We have a mission of a World Bank that’s powerful,” before Gelles asked him again to answer the question, to no avail.
When asked to respond to former Vice President Al Gore’s claim that he was a “climate denier,” Malpass said he had never met Gore, calling the remark “very odd.”
Scientists have known for decades that the combustion of fossil fuels by humans are the main driver of climate change.
Malpass’ comments have sparked anger and shock among climate activists and experts worldwide, with a coalition of organizations joining Gore in calling on the World Bank to either fire him or for him to quit his post.
Former US President Donald Trump had appointed Malpass as World Bank chief in 2019 for a five-year period. As the largest shareholder of the bank, the US traditionally appoints its president.
Tasneem Essop, Executive Director of the Climate Action Network, which represents more than 1,800 groups around the world, called Malpass a “self-pronounced climate denier” and said having him at the head of the bank was “inexcusable.”
“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,” she said in a statement. “For the World Bank to maintain any shred of decency Malpass cannot remain as President.”
Sonia Dunlop, a climate expert with think tank E3G who works with banks and international financial institutions like the World Bank, called Malpass’ remarks “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,” she said in a statement. “You don’t need to be a scientist to understand climate science – the facts are clear, and there’s no alternative but to act.”
When asked for comment, the White House directed CNN to the US Treasury. “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,” said a Treasury spokesperson.
“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 declined to comment on the calls for Malpass to resign. When asked about Gore’s criticism that the World Bank has failed to improve financing climate projects in poorer countries, a spokesperson replied: “The World Bank Group is the largest multilateral funder of climate investments in developing countries.”
“Under the leadership of David Malpass, the World Bank Group doubled its climate finance, published an ambitious Climate Change Action Plan, and initiated country level diagnostics to support countries’ climate and development goals,” said the spokesperson, echoing similar comments made by Malpass in the discussion.
The organization also pointed to their previous work combating climate change. It delivered $31.7 billion in the 2022 fiscal year to help countries address the climate crisis, it said.
That money has gone to helping expand access to water and improve wastewater treatment in Romania; fund a solar photovoltaic plant with a battery energy storage system in Malawi; and boost sustainable landscape management in Nigeria, according to the bank.
Malpass has come under fire before – dozens of climate organizations sent a joint letter last October calling for him to be replaced, and urging the World Bank to take stronger climate action. That letter was signed by 77 groups, which called for the immediate end to all actions promoting coal, oil and gas. It said that the World Bank had failed to “position itself with science and justice” on climate issues.
The letter also criticized the World Bank’s Climate Change Action Plan, published earlier in 2021, which allowed for some fossil fuel investments for two to four more years.
The letter said the plan was an affront to the rights of communities worst impacted by the crisis.
The World Bank has reduced its new investments into coal power over the past decade and in 2019 stopped funding upstream oil and gas operations. But it has not heeded calls from its own European board members and climate campaigners to phase out fossil fuel financing entirely.