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Ed Markey: I'll Organize Senate Dems to Demand World Bank Chief be Fired!
Egypt Dispatch #2, an honest-to-God scoop
Amid the general chaos and tension of this climate summit—exacerbated by the fact that Joe Biden is speaking today—I sat down for a quiet twenty minutes with Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey. He’s arguably done as much as any person in these halls to reinvigorate the climate fight, for it was the Green New Deal that he and and AOC introduced that eventually—shrunken and warped by Joe Manchin—emerged as the Inflation Reduction Act; without its passage this fall, this COP would be a much less hopeful place.
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And in our talk he dropped a bombshell that could amplify the next great push, this one around climate finance. He said that when he returned to Washington (and when the Senate returned from its election break) he would try to organize his fellow Democratic Senators (apparently headed for a narrow majority) to demand the firing of David Malpass, the president of the World Bank, in an attempt to increase the flow of climate capital to the global south.
Malpass—appointed by some guy named Trump to his post—has disappointed climate activists around the world with a sluggish effort on climate: he’s still sending money to the fossil fuel industry, and he hasn’t managed to overhaul efforts on renewable finance in line with the $2 trillion a year it’s now estimated the global south needs. That money won’t mostly come from public coffers—only the world’s pension funds have that kind of money to invest. But they won’t take the risk to lend, at least at affordable rates, unless the World Bank and its sister institutions like the IMF revamp their rules and seed the pot in ways that reduce that risk.
Normally, “president of the World Bank” is a boring enough job title that it’s hard to work up sufficient public anger to put much heat on its bearer. But—as befits a man whose previous job was “chief economist at Bear Stearns for the six years preceding its collapse”—he’s managed to behave in Trumpian enough fashion to put himself at risk. In particular, he went to a New York Times forum earlier in the fall and refused—time after time after time after time—to acknowledge that human beings were causing climate change. Indeed, he memorably remarked "I don't even know. I'm not a scientist." This is not only wrong (in all senses of the word), it’s also dumb: it provided an opening to go after him. Al Gore was first, calling him a climate denier and demanding he be fired. And though Malpass went on CNN the next day to “restate” his position ("It's clear that greenhouse gas emissions are coming from manmade sources, including fossil fuels, methane, the agricultural uses, the industrial uses,” he said, which is not exactly an impassioned announcement), civil society took up the cause. I got to participate in a demonstration outside the Bank headquarters in DC where helpful scientists read peer-reviewed papers into a bullhorn, in hopes he might hear.
Still, it appeared that he might survive unscathed—the Democrats were otherwise occupied trying to stave off an election debacle. Which they did. And now Markey says it’s time to deal with Malpass—a substantive threat, since the U.S., as largest shareholder, effectively determines who runs the World Bank. “Malpass has to go. He’s a Trump guy and a climate denier,” he said. “My attempt is to organize the Democrats in the Senate to call for the removal of Malpass and to send a very strong signal that while it’s unprecedented that the World Bank president is removed, it’s also unprecedented that the world would face such a catastrophe, and that a climate denier would be in charge.”
Markey, I think, will have the ear of his colleagues, in part because his last election demonstrated the power of the climate issue. His long DC career appeared in jeopardy two years ago—early polls showed him trailing yet another handsome young Kennedy by double digits—but his Green New Deal cred rallied young people behind him. A Youth for Markey movement memed him back into the race, turning a career politician into a good-natured insurgent; in the end it was he who won by double digits, and that’s the kind of thing other pols remember. Especially since it looks like youth turnout played a serious role in this week’s midterms, and whenever those voters are polled climate comes in at the top of their issue list.
The filibuster-bound Senate likely won’t be able to provide the funding for climate loss-and-damage that advocates here are rightfully demanding (Ari Dasgupta has a great essay in the Times today making the compelling moral case) Even if the House doesn’t flip red, there’s not 60 votes to pass meaningful climate aid for the developing world. So, distant second best, there may be ways to leverage the World Bank to free up private capital. “You can have the right people in place and they can change how things get rated, the confidence they can give other lenders.” If he’s able to rally Senate Dems, Markey predicted, “then the International Monetary Fund, and all of the global financing institutions, would be hard-pressed not to have to change their policies, to help countries deploy their renewable resources.”
As an example, he returned to the IRA legislation: though it’s usually described as providing $369 billion in funding for renewable energy, most of the funding pots are essentially uncapped, and some analyses predict as much as $700 billion will flow from the federal government over the next ten years. But that by some estimates is expected to catalyze a further $1.7 trillion in private sector spending. “That’s analogous to what could happen at the World Bank and the IMF. Which then could unleash private sector investment in technologies all over the planet. There’s an appetite on Wall Street as long as there’s a little bit of risk taken by the public sector.”
We’re a month away from the four-year anniversary of the lunch between Markey and Ocasio-Cortez that cemented plans for the Green New Deal. Markey was looking back fondly on that meeting, which saved his political career and may well have helped save the planet. But he was looking farther back still, to his forebears who journeyed from Ireland to the mills of Lawrence and Lowell during the first Industrial Revolution. “Maybe now with the investment we can create some kind of Industrial Revolution for the rest of the world—a clean one.”
I normally wouldn’t run a picture of myself in this newsletter, but I’m putting this image in for a reason. Markey wanted to associate himself with my t-shirt, which backs the fight to free Egyptian political prisoner Alaa Abdel Fattah. The latest word on his condition is concerning—after a long hunger strike, his family fears that the government is now force-feeding him to keep him alive till the COP is over and attention wanes. They think that Biden’s visit today, which includes a visit with the Egyptian ruler, may be the last chance for pressure to get him released.