'One of the biggest arsonists': World Bank blasted for 'investing' $15 billion into planet-scorching fossil fuels

'One of the biggest arsonists': World Bank blasted for 'investing' $15 billion into planet-scorching fossil fuels
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A coalition of over 50 advocacy groups on Thursday published a report revealing that the World Bank has directly financed at least around $15 billion in fossil fuel development since the signing of the 2015 Paris climate agreement—despite the international financial institution's 2017 pledge to stop supporting oil and gas projects within two years.

Big Shift Global's report—entitled Investing in Climate Disaster: World Bank Finance for Fossil Fuels—"shows that even after the Paris agreement, climate science, and climate impacts should have been focusing minds" at the World Bank Group "on the need for a transition to clean renewable sources of energy."

Instead, "the group remained in a fossil-funding paradigm, harmful to people, countries, and planet," spending at least $14.8 billion supporting fossil fuel projects and policies since the landmark climate accord was signed.

The report's release coincided with a demonstration by activists with Glasgow Actions Team, who unveiled a banner reading "World Bank = Climate Chaos" outside the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., where the World Bank will hold its annual meetings next week.

The analysis was also published on the same day that U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen urged the World Bank to do more to combat the climate emergency.

"We agree with Secretary of Treasury Yellen that the development finance system needs to be fit for purpose in order to react to global challenges and crises, such as climate change," Glasgow Actions Team director Andrew Nazdin said in a statement.

"If the World Bank wants to be a part of the solution rather than the problem, it needs to stop funding fossil fuels and unlock billions in order to support the transition to renewable energy across the globe and end poverty and inequality," Nazdin added.

The report also comes amid calls by climate campaigners and U.S. Democratic lawmakers for the World Bank Group to fire its president, David Malpass—who was nominated by former U.S. President Donald Trump—after he refused to acknowledge that burning fossil fuels is heating the planet.

"World Bank President David Malpass recently refused to confirm that he accepts climate science," Big Shift Global said on its website. "While President Malpass has attempted to walk back his remarks, the bank's track record of a lack of climate action under his leadership speaks for itself."

Bronwen Tucker, public finance co-lead at Oil Change International—a member of Big Shift Global—said Thursday that "under Malpass, the World Bank Group is running backward on climate and just development."

"The World Bank Group still funds more fossil fuels" than any other multilateral development bank (MDB), "and they continue to lock Global South countries into expensive and volatile fossil fuel contracts through their heavy-handed policy lending programs," Tucker added. "They are blocking joint MDB Paris alignment efforts. Malpass must go."

The White House condemned Malpass' initial remarks, and according to reporting by Axios, the Biden administration is considering an attempt to remove the World Bank president and replace him, perhaps with former U.S. vice president and early climate champion Al Gore or current Biden climate envoy John Kerry.

Big Shift Global is "calling on all of the world's biggest public development banks to shift all their money out of dirty fossil fuels and into sustainable renewable energy to provide energy access for all."

The coalition added that multilateral development banks "such as the World Bank manage billions of dollars of public money," making them "key to financing the shift to a sustainable renewable global energy system."

Big Shift Global says these international financial institutions must:

  • End all direct and indirect finance to fossil fuels and promote a just transition;
  • Significantly scale up investment in sustainable renewable energy and ensure everyone has access to clean, safe energy;
  • Include strong environmental, social, and governance safeguards relating to fossil fuels and renewable energy; and
  • Be transparent and accountable about direct and indirect energy finance and in measuring emissions from the projects they fund.

According to the World Bank's own analysis, "Climate change may push over 130 million into poverty by 2030 and cause over 200 million people to migrate within their own countries by 2050."

The World Bank says it is "the biggest multilateral funder of climate investments in developing countries," and that it intends "to go further in helping countries reduce poverty and rise to the challenges of climate change."

The international financial institution cites the more than $109 billion it says it has invested in climate finance—including a record $21.6 billion for fiscal year 2021—over the past six years.

However, the U.K.-based international charity Oxfam said this week that the World Banks' "reporting practices make it impossible to independently verify their climate finance claims."

"The Earth is on fire and the World Bank is one of the biggest arsonists in disguise," German Green politician Ute Koczy, an MDB expert at coalition member Urgewald, said in a statement Thursday.

"To date, this bank supports coal, oil, and gas," she added. "Greedy companies are lucky to have World Bank leaders in back. This has to stop. Exit fossil fuel finance now!"

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