Open letter from civil society to the WBG Board: Make commitment to climate action a prerequisite for next WBG Prez

NB: The below text is from a letter submitted by 31 civil society organisations to the World Bank’s Board of Executive Directors on 14 March. A PDF version of this letter is available here.

Dear World Bank Group Executive Directors,

We write to call upon you to prioritise the Bank’s role in combating climate change in the selection of the next World Bank Group president.

We feel strongly that the appointment of the World Bank’s next president will greatly affect, positively or negatively, the Bank’s implementation of its commitments to take effective climate action, and to bring its lending and technical support into alignment with the Paris Climate Agreement.

As you well know, climate change poses an existential threat to societies around the world. A landmark IPCC report released in 2018 lays bare the scale of the challenge: Global CO2 emissions must be reduced by 45 per cent by 2030 compared to 2010 levels to keep global average temperature rise at 1.5°C compared to preindustrial levels.

As the climate crisis continues to bite, many of the Bank’s borrower countries will be among the most severely impacted. The Bank’s own research shows that 100 million people could be pushed back into poverty by 2030 due to climate change impacts. In short, climate change is a direct challenge to the Bank’s organizational mission of eliminating extreme poverty and promoting shared prosperity.

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The clock is ticking

On February 18, Lebanon’s minister of finance nominated Ziad Hayek, an investment banker and expert on public-private partnerships. While the World Bank’s board of executive directors promised an “open, merit-based and transparent” process, Hayek was the only known challenger to the Trump administration’s nominee, David Malpass, former Bear Stearns chief economist, a US treasury official who was a negotiator for the recent IBRD/IFC capital increase, and currently a member of the US team working with their Chinese counterparts to resolve Donald Trump’s trade crisis.

Enthusiasm for Malpass seems restricted to various American conservative news outlets and commentators who support a nativist “American interests first” view of multilateralism, falsely accuse the Bank of corruption (a position Malpass has publicly taken in Congressional testimony), and see a reduction in lending to middle income countries—including and in particular, China—as urgent. This notion about China, and possibly other upper-middle-income countries like Turkey, is mistaken: “The World Bank is a bank, and it needs to be lending profitably to at least some of its borrowers. China serves that role very well,” Christopher Kilby, an economics professor at Villanova University, told Bloomberg. Slashing credit to China could also have unintended consequences for the World Bank’s efforts to combat global problems such as climate change. And it could leave the bank on the outside looking in, without influence over such major and controversial Beijing initiatives like Belt and Road.

Malpass will no doubt want to explain his positions on these matters in the context of the Bank’s long-standing global role beyond finance, in knowledge generation and translation, and as a convener on a broad range of global public goods. In the case of China, in particular, the World Bank’s long, trusted relationship continues to provide a deep, well-informed and collaborative perspective on China’s many, and formidable, development challenges. Continue reading