The World Bank president, who faces calls to resign, is changing the response to the climate crisis

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – World Bank President David Malpass has faced pressure to resign after he refused to say whether he agreed with the scientific consensus on global warming and said greenhouse gas emissions are causing climate change, and defended his record as bank chief, World Bank President David Malpass said Thursday.

Malpass tried to reiterate his views in a memo to staff and in an interview with CNN International, during which he was asked if he was a climate change denier. His views came under scrutiny after he refused to say at a public event this week whether he believes burning fossil fuels is warming the planet.

“I’m not a denier,” Malpass told CNN International.

“It’s clear that greenhouse gas emissions come from man-made sources, including fossil fuels, methane, agriculture and industrial use, so we’re working hard to change that,” Malpass said.

Malpass has long been criticized by climate activists, who have renewed calls for US President Joe Biden to replace him. His remarks at a New York Times climate event on Tuesday reignited concerns that the bank missed a deadline to end fossil fuel financing.

Malpass, shown in 2020, has long drawn criticism from climate activists, who have again invited President Joe Biden to replace him. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)

Speaking on stage during a panel on climate finance, Malpass was asked several times if he believed “the human-induced burning of fossil fuels is rapidly and dangerously warming the planet.” He tried to dodge the question before saying, “I don’t even know. I’m not a scientist.”

Trump was nominated

Presidents of the World Bank are traditionally appointed by the President of the United States, the World Bank’s largest shareholder, who are confirmed by the Bank’s Board of Directors. Former President Donald Trump appointed Malpass to a five-year term in 2019.

Biden, who is at the United Nations General Assembly in New York, did not respond when reporters asked him if he trusted Malpass. The White House has not commented on the controversy.

Sources following the issue said the Biden administration has so far been reluctant to fire Malpass before his term ends in early 2024, but his comments this week could change that calculus, despite his efforts to “clarify” his views.

In a memo sent by Reuters to World Bank staff, Malpass said that “the sharp increase in the use of coal, diesel and heavy fuel oil in both advanced economies and developing countries is creating another wave of climate crisis.”

He added: “Anything seen in a different light is wrong and unfortunate.”

Activists and former climate activists worry that the bank will not be able to deliver on climate action. Last year, more than 70 non-governmental organizations jointly demanded the replacement of Malpass, citing inaction.

The World Bank has not invested in coal since 2010, a spokeswoman said, and its board agreed in 2013 to limit funding for coal-fired power plants. In 2019, the bank stopped financing oil and gas operations.

But it has so far resisted pressure from European board members and climate campaigners to ditch fossil fuel funding altogether.

Investment in natural gas project

Last January, the bank’s board approved a $620 million investment in a multibillion-dollar LNG project in Mozambique, drawing criticism from climate activists.

Asked to comment on Malpass’s remarks Tuesday, a spokeswoman for Canadian Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland said the World Bank has a critical role to play in the fight against climate change.

“World Bank management must stand fully behind this global initiative,” spokeswoman Adrienne Vaupshas said.

US lawmaker Maxine Waters, chair of the House Financial Services Committee, said Malpass’s comments cast doubt on the World Bank’s commitment to tackling climate change.

This, in turn, threatens the Bank’s relevance in all other areas, including its mission to alleviate poverty and promote sustainable economic growth, Waters said.