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President Biden should work for the removal of the head of the World Bank, former Vice President Al Gore said on Tuesday, calling him a “climate denier” at an event coinciding with the United Nations General Assembly.
Hours later, David Malpass, the development bank’s president, defended his record on climate, but refused to say directly whether he accepted the scientific consensus that the burning of fossil fuels is dangerously warming the planet.
Mr. Malpass called Mr. Gore’s remarks “very odd,” and noted that he was not a scientist himself when he declined to answer questions about whether he accepted climate science.
“What we need to do is move forward with impactful projects,” Mr. Malpass said.
Both men were part of separate panel discussions at a climate change event organized by The New York Times.
Mr. Gore said that Mr. Malpass, who was nominated to lead the World Bank by former President Donald J. Trump in 2019, had been unable to improve access to financing for developing countries to take on climate projects, a concern he has expressed before.
“Since almost 90 percent of the increased emissions going forward are coming 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.”
The World Bank and its smaller, regional counterparts have been repeatedly called to action by the U.N. secretary general, António Guterres, including in his opening remarks at the General Assembly on Tuesday. “Major economies are their shareholders and must make it happen,” he said.
Mr. Malpass defended the World Bank’s performance, citing the Climate Change Action Plan initiated in Glasgow last year. He said the bank had directed $31.7 billion to climate finance, half of it to projects to adapt to extreme weather events and other climate transformations, which are crucial for developing nations.
“The bank has been a world leader in focusing attention on resilience, on adaptation and change,” he said.
In another panel at the same event, John Kerry, the U.S. special envoy for climate change, declined to comment on whether the Biden administration had confidence in Mr. Malpass’s leadership, saying, “that’s the president’s decision.”
But Mr. Kerry said he and others in the administration have been pushing for a broader rethinking of the global approach to climate change and other issues that would allow entities like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to act more aggressively.
“We need to have major reform, major restructuring” of multilateral development banks, Mr. Kerry said. “It’s up to us to pull people together and get that reform, and there’s a lot of discussion about us doing that right now.”
The presidency of the World Bank has been held by a citizen of the United States, its largest shareholder, since the bank was founded after World War II. Mr. Malpass’s term runs until 2024 and Mr. Biden wouldn’t be able to remove him early, although he could pressure Mr. Malpass to resign or work with other shareholders to get the board of directors to remove him.
Lisa Friedman contributed reporting.