The Global Banker Who's Not Sure the Globe is Warming
Biden's Easiest Climate Call Ever is to Ditch David Malpass
Some essential climate tasks are hard and expensive and take years.
And a few could not be easier. President Biden needs—now—to get rid of David Malpass as the head of the World Bank.
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The easiest reason to explain why he’s got to go is that he’s a climate denier—maybe the highest placed one left in the world. Here’s what he said yesterday on a stage in New York City during the UN’s “Climate Week,” while being interviewed by a happily bulldoggish David Gelles of the New York Times. Remember as you read this that this was not in 1993 or 2004 or maybe 2011 when there was still some slightly respectable cover for this kind of thing. He said it yesterday, in 2022, with Pakistan and Puerto Rico underwater. I quote it at length because historians will want to read it some day.
David Gelles: I don't know if you've heard, but [former vice president Al Gore] referred to you, in his remarks publicly on stage here as a climate denier. Would you clear the air? Do you accept the scientific consensus that the burning of fossil fuels is dangerously warming the planet, let's just start there with some level setting.
David Malpass: Okay. That's, that's a odd spot to start, but I'm very happy to be here. Thank you very much for the invitation. I was the first invitee and I'm happy to be here. I don't know all of the all of the instances that you're talking about, I've been very pleased to have super strong US government support across the board on the initiatives that we've been taking. Some people that are critical, I think, are unfounded, they, they may not know what the World Bank is doing. Some of them are simply not involved in the efforts that are going on to actually have an impact. People fly to meetings, and then make pledges, and then they're gone. And so I really think it might be useful if I just go through what the World Bank is doing…
David Gelles: Absolutely. I want to talk about all that more in detail with all our panelists, I also want to give you one more chance to directly address former Vice President Gore's claim that he made on this stage that you were a climate denier, his words.
David Malpass: Very odd, I've never met him. He's not involved in the efforts that we're doing. He may present as a climate person, I don't know what impact that's having.
David Gelles: Okay. Do let me just be as clear as I can. Do you accept the scientific consensus that the manmade burning of fossil fuels is rapidly and dangerously warming the planet?
David Malpass: I don't know if everyone wants to comment on that. What we are doing is having impact projects that …
David Gelles: Will you answer the question?
David Malpass :We have a mission of a World Bank, that's powerful.
David Gelles : Will you answer the question? Is that...
David Malpass: I don't even know... I'm not a scientist. And that is not a question... so Al Gore can put... I don't know why it stays on the stage… what we need to do is move forward with impactful projects.
Actually, though, the fact that he doesn’t know if climate change is real is, by itself, not the deep problem here. (It’s merely a demonstration that he’s not a good guy, which is unsurprising when you learn that he was Trump’s undersecretary of the Treasury, a job he prepared for by, to quote the always deadpan Wikipedia, “serving as chief economist for Bear Stearns for six years preceding its collapse.”) The real trouble is that, as a result of his waffling, the World Bank is continuing to fund fossil fuel projects long after the International Energy Agency has said that it must stop, and long after the world’s scientists have run screaming from the room, and it is not making it as easy as it should for developing countries to borrow money for renewable energy.
I emailed back and forth with Gore today to ask him why he’s so insistent that Malpass must go, and he minced no words. “Nigerians have to pay a 7x interest rate compared to OECD nations to finance renewable energy. Brazilians have to pay a 3x % to borrow for a new wind farm. It’s insane!”
He explained things a little more diplomatically when he spoke in New York yesterday: “Since almost 90% of the increased emissions going forward are from developing countries, we have to take the top layers of risk off the access to capital in these developing countries,” he said. “That’s the job of the World Bank -- to coordinate the other multilateral development banks -- and they’re simply not doing it.”
Gore is not alone in this thinking. The US Treasury—Malpass’s former employer—has been expressing impatience with the World Bank on climate for months now, urging “more forceful and constructive action” back in June. And yesterday the president’s current climate envoy, John Kerry, though as a current diplomat having to hold his tongue on Malpass, made it clear what he was thinking: he told the Financial Times that he’d been “pushing for months” to get action from the World Bank. “We made it crystal clear that we all believe the time is passed, that we have to have major reform and major restructuring with respect to the [multilateral banks].”
Meanwhile, here’s a sprinkling of other opinion from Twitter
Climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe:
“When a leader doesn't want to act on climate, they often claim they "don't know" whether it's real, human-caused, or dangerous.”
Rachel Kyte, dean of the Fletcher School of Diplomacy:
Marcelo Mena-Carrasco, CEO of Global Methane Hub and former Environment Minister for Chile:
“It's called climate week, not ‘I'm not a scientist’ week. The science is settled. Taking action is not. We need to do a lot more. Climate action is action for better sustainable development.”
One more small point that you may have missed in the Malpass transcript, the part where he says re Gore: “He may present as a climate person, I don't know what impact that's having.” Al Gore is not a street protester—he was, remember, elected president of the United States until the Supreme Court unelected him. But he is very much a climate person, and he has outspokenly backed frontline groups at every turn, beginning with his (quite important and very early) willingness to speak out against the Keystone Pipeline in the summer of 2011 when some of us were still in jail. His documentary An Inconvenient Truth is one of the three or four most crucial documents in the long history of the climate fight. He has probably given more speeches on the climate crisis than anyone on earth, something I am qualified to talk about since I’m in the running myself. He is in every sense of the word a climate person.
So Joe Biden should listen to him. Joe Biden can get rid of David Malpass this week. It’s nuts that he hasn’t done so already.
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