The White House on Friday said it condemned recent comments on climate change by World Bank President David Malpass, who came under fire this week after he declined to say whether he accepts the scientific consensus on global warming.
“We condemn the words of the president" of the World Bank, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters. "We expect the World Bank to be a global leader of climate ambition and mobilisation.
The Treasury Department, which oversees the US engagement with the bank, “has and will continue to make that expectation clear to the World Bank leadership,” she said.
Jean-Pierre spoke shortly after President Joe Biden's top climate adviser John Podesta said Malpass, a Republican nominated by former President Donald Trump, should "not mince words" on the scientific consensus on climate change.
Malpass came under fire this week from some world leaders and environmental groups after he declined to say whether he accepts the scientific consensus on global warming.
Malpass on Friday acknowledged that his remarks were "unfortunate", but said none of the bank's shareholders had asked him to resign.
Podesta, appointed earlier this month to oversee $370 billion in new US climate spending, criticised Malpass at the Global Clean Energy Action Forum in Pittsburgh without mentioning his name.
Malpass first addressed the concerns on Thursday in an interview with CNN International and in a separate note to staff, saying it was clear that human activity is fuelling climate change and defending his record at the helm of the development bank.
On Friday, he told Politico it was "unfortunate" that he responded as he did on Tuesday: "When asked, 'Are you a climate denier?' I should have said 'no.' ... I really wasn't prepared and didn't do my best job in answering that charge."
Nonetheless, Podesta said that the World Bank leader's hesitation on climate change is troubling given his mandate to help improve the well-being of billions of people around the world.
"It is time for a leader of an organisation that is responsive to billions of poor people around the world not to mince words about the fact that the science is real," Podesta told the audience at the Pittsburgh summit.
When asked if Malpass should resign, Podesta did not answer but told Reuters on the sidelines of the event that "Malpass should represent the people that the World Bank serves."
Malpass, whose five-year term is due to end in spring 2024, reiterated on Friday that he believed human activity caused climate change, while defending what he called the bank's "forceful leadership" on climate change and its role as the leading financier of climate change projects.
Asked if any shareholder had asked him to resign over the issue, Malpass said, "No, none have."
He said his comment about not being a scientist "wasn't a good phrase for me to use," adding, "We have a lot of input from the global scientific community. ... We interact with scientists."
The president of the United States traditionally nominates World Bank presidents, subject to confirmation by the bank's board. The Treasury declined to comment when asked if it supported a second term for Malpass when his term ends in 2024.