How can the World Bank lead with a climate denier as President?

David Malpass' ambiguous response to a question on whether he “accept[s] the scientific consensus” that climate change is man-made sets off alarm bells about how genuine the Bank's commitment to addressing climate actually is, this is especially true given that the Bank continues to fund projects, policies, and financial institutions that support fossil fuels and forest-destroying livestock and infrastructure projects.

The World Bank, more than any similar institution, has a critical role to play in advancing sustainable development, and leading the response to global crises, with climate change chief among those.

Indeed, the Bank has acknowledged that as climate impacts increase, so will the difficulty and cost of eradicating poverty—its stated mission. So, it cannot lead on development if it doesn’t address the climate. The Bank has the means-- $115 billion in new commitments in fiscal year 2022--and the influence to transform the world’s approach to development, bringing it in line with a low carbon future.

But that influence must be directed to spur climate action, not raise doubts. So when World Bank President David Malpass is asked, “Do you accept the scientific consensus that the man-made burning of fossil fuels is rapidly and dangerously warming the planet?”, and he replies, “I don't even know... I'm not a scientist.” –that sets off alarm bells.

In reality, those alarm bells are long overdue, as the World Bank continues to fund projects, policies, and financial institutions that support fossil fuels as well as forest-destroying livestock and infrastructure projects. The Bank must respond to the urgency of the climate crisis with clear, transparent climate actions. These include aligning its portfolio with the overall aim of the Paris Climate Agreement to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius, scaling up its climate finance commitments (including through policy loans), and implementing a comprehensive adaptation program that builds on its own research that takes advantage of natural climate solutions.

Former WB VP Rachel Kyte summed it up: “@WorldBank can’t help #EndPoverty without tackling climate change.” The idea of a World Bank President refusing to accept the overwhelming scientific consensus that it is human activity driving the dangerous warming of the planet is, as Congresswoman Maxine Waters, Chairwoman of the House Financial Services Committee put it, “appalling”. The time for the Bank to act on climate is now, and they can’t lead with a climate denier at the helm.

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