Donald Trump’s World Bank pick could reverse climate change focus
With Ivanka Trump out of the running for the World Bank’s top job, all eyes are on President Trump to see whether he will use the vacancy to shift the multilateral lender’s focus from fighting climate change to providing developing nations with cheap, reliable fossil-fuel energy.
The White House said Monday that Ms. Trump, while not under consideration, will help choose a successor to World Bank President Jim Yong Kim, who shocked onlookers last week by announcing that he will step down as of Feb. 1, three years before the end of his five-year term.
Given Mr. Trump’s record of shaking up the international order he has moved to pull the U.S. out of UNESCO and the Paris climate accord it would come as no surprise if he replaces the climate-conscious Mr. Kim with an executive eager to bring coal-fired power to Africa and Asia.
Myron Ebell, a member of the Trump transition team on the Environmental Protection Agency, said the opportunity comes not a moment too soon.
“I have been disappointed that the Trump administration has been slow to challenge the anti-fossil-fuel policies of the World Bank,” said Mr. Ebell, an analyst with the free-market Competitive Enterprise Institute. “Now that Dr. Kim has resigned or been forced to resign, I hope the administration will insist that the next president be someone who has publicly advocated overturning these policies.”
Appointed in 2012 by President Barack Obama and reappointed in 2017, Mr. Kim plans to join the private equity firm Global Infrastructure Partners to specialize on projects in the developing world.
Ms. Trump will “help manage the U.S. nomination process as she’s worked closely with the World Bank’s leadership for the past two years however, reports that she is under consideration are false,” White House spokeswoman Jessica Ditto said in a statement.
While speculation swirls over whether Mr. Kim is leaving voluntarily he was “not pushed out,” according to sources cited by Reuters news agency his departure has raised alarm on the left.
“After World Bank chief resigns, worries of a Trump-appointed leader abound,” said a recent CNBC headline.
Julien Vincent, executive director for the environmental group Market Forces in Australia, said that any “appointment that upholds Trump’s views on climate change would be a disaster for the World Bank.”
Peter McCawley, a former director of the Asian Development Bank Institute, said Mr. Kim’s exit was “an unexpected gift to Donald Trump” but warned the president against overplaying his hand.
“Across the world, the Bank is currently seen as a credible institution,” Mr. McCawley said in a post for Australia’s Lowy Institute. “If a new president, appointed by Donald Trump, were to try to introduce a strong conservative agenda into the work of the World Bank, the institution would soon lose credibility.”
Among free-marketers, however, the view is that the next president could hardly be worse than Mr. Kim, a Korean-born U.S. physician who has been accused of turning the 189-member international development agency into a “green think tank.”
“In my view, Dr. Kim had been acting against the interests of developing nations by prioritizing global climate policies over the provision of universal energy access,” said Rupert Darwall, a British energy consultant. “It’s one or the other.”
Mr. Darwall wrote an October 2017 report, “The Anti-Development Bank: The World Bank’s regressive energy policies,” which said the World Bank “abandons the poor” for the Global Warming Policy Foundation in London.
In the report’s foreword, former World Bank research administrator Deepak Lal, a UCLA economics professor, slammed the 2013 World Bank decision to cut back financing of coal-fired plants, saying Mr. Kim had overruled his own staff’s cost-benefit analysis to place “the green agenda over its core developmental mission of poverty reduction.”
“If you prioritize climate programs, you will have more expensive electricity and you will have less-reliable energy and fewer people will have it. It’s as simple as that,” Mr. Darwall said.
Critics have also accused the World Bank of boosting China by promoting green energy policies, which favor the country’s solar panel industry, and by blocking coal projects, making loans from Beijing the fallback for many developing nations seeking fossil fuel energy infrastructure.
“All the big fossil-fuel-based power plants in Africa in particular, but also in large sections of Asia, are being funded by the Asian Development Bank, which is basically a Chinese-funded bank,” said Benny Peiser, director of the Global Warming Policy Foundation. “The price they have to pay is that they are basically becoming part of the Chinese empire, and the dependency on China becomes quite significant.”
Mr. Darwall called it “just bizarre, given that the U.S. is the largest funder of the World Bank. Effectively, he was using American taxpayers’ dollars to subsidize China’s solar [photovoltaic] industry.”
Those mentioned as possible successors to Mr. Kim include former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley and Treasury Department official David Malpass, according to the Financial Times, although there has been a push to end the tradition of a U.S. leader in favor of one from the developing world.
Since the 1944 Bretton Woods Agreement, the United States has selected the World Bank president, described by Mr. McCawley as “the pope of the international development community,” and Europeans have headed the International Monetary Fund.
German global development analyst Hans Dembowski said Mr. Trump’s pick may be less influential than predicted because the World Bank “does not simply obey the orders of its top leader.”
“Whoever becomes the next World Bank president, he or she will only be able to introduce the kind of gradual change with which most governments can be comfortable,” Mr. Dembowski said in a post on Development and Cooperation. “U-turns on issues like climate change are extremely unlikely.”
Whomever the Trump administration picks, said Mr. Peiser, “I think it will certainly lead to a shift in focus and hopefully a return to proper cost-effective policies that are actually looking at the costs and benefits rather than the ideology.
“Otherwise,” he said, “developing countries will continue to suffer.”