A Welcome Resignation

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    Funny word, resignation. One of its meanings is “the acceptance of something undesirable but inevitable”. It certainly took time for the infamous president of the World Bank, David Malpass, to reach that graceful state. Of course, as any follower of the legendary Elisabeth Kübler-Ross would tell you, grieving is a process, and rushing to the penultimate stage of acceptance is rather ill-advised. First, there are denial, anger, bargaining and depression to deal with.

    I’m not sure how much grief the whole debacle has inflicted on Malpass, who just announced his resignation, but denial has definitely been a theme for him.

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    Back in 2007, he angered many environmentalists by openly denying climate change’s anthropogenic origins. Attending a speech by California’s charismatic governor, he questioned Schwarzenegger’s decision to sign a law capping greenhouse gas emissions. The Earth saw a period of warming around 1000 to 1300 A.D., noted the learned Mr Malpass, “and it wasn’t carbon emissions from people that were doing it then.”

    Upon being nominated to lead the World Bank in 2019 (by another climate sceptic, his buddy President Trump), Malpass chose not to divulge his 2007 comment. A spokesman from his office did the denying instead, insisting that Malpass’s previous remarks were not indicative of his views.

    Fast forward to last September and Climate Forward, a climate conference organised by the New York Times to set the scene for COP27 in Sharm el Sheik. Live on stage in New York (and worldwide, courtesy of modern technology), a habitually outspoken and eloquent former Vice President Al Gore called the World Bank president a “climate denier.” Upon which, a rather persistent moderator pressed Malpass not one but three times to say whether he accepted that man-made greenhouse gas emissions had created a worsening crisis that is already leading to more extreme weather. His answer? “I’m not a scientist.”

    Later, of course, he denied his stance again. In the aftermath of Climate Forward, he was interviewed by another persistent journalist, from the Guardian this time, who repeatedly asked if he was a climate denier. “You know that I’m not, so don’t misreport it,” a visibly irritated Malpass said.

    And so it goes.

    It is just words, you might say. Who cares if his personal views on climate change are somewhat confused and/or misguided? Wrong! It is the institution he represents (fortunately, just until June) that needs to tackle urgent questions about who pays for the catastrophic impact of the changing climate, from hurricanes to floods and wildfires. And under Malpass’s leadership, the World Bank’s efforts to help mitigate the effects of global warming have been infuriatingly feeble. Proposals for action, such as those by Mia Mottley, the prime minister of Barbados, have been shelved, and so have calls from developed countries to design an “evolution road map.”

    Seemingly oblivious to the wave of criticism, Malpass has been stuck in denial, refusing to resign and move on. It took some proper yelling from Janet Yellen last week to finally persuade him. Back from a trip to Africa, the U.S. Treasury secretary sounded positively outraged at the lack of action by the World Bank. “The world has changed, and we need these vital institutions to change along with it,” she said. “In today’s world, sustained progress on poverty alleviation and economic development is simply not possible without addressing the global challenges that face us all.”

    Let’s hope that whoever succeeds Malpass, scientist or not, will be quicker to accept the facts and act accordingly.

    Image courtesy of Gerd Altmann at Pixabay
    Julia Axelsson, CAIA
    Julia Axelsson, CAIA
    Julia has accumulated experience in asset management for more than 20 years in Stockholm and Beijing, in portfolio management, asset allocation, fund selection and risk management. In December 2020, she completed a program in Sustainability Studies at the University of Linköping. Julia speaks Mandarin, Bulgarian, Hindi, Russian, Swedish, Urdu and English. She holds a Master in Indology from Sofia University and has completed studies in Economics at both Stockholm University and Stockholm School of Economics.
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