Opinion | How the World Bank Can Meet the Needs of a Changing Climate

In 2009, donor countries promised to mobilize $100 billion a year by 2020 to help lower income countries with mitigation and adaptation. They only mustered $83 billion, $36.9 billion of which came from multilateral development banks and climate funds, in 2020. Those unfulfilled promises haven’t gone unnoticed. According to Ephraim Mwepya Shitima, chair of the African Group of Negotiators on climate change, many developing countries, including those in Africa, have put forth ambitious plans to curb emissions in the future, but have been “hampered by the pledged financial support, which are falling short of expectations.”

Although Covid, inflation and the energy crisis related to the war in Ukraine have strained government budgets everywhere, it would be shortsighted to ignore the significance and potential of investing in climate financing. According to Devesh Kapur, a professor at Johns Hopkins and co-author of a history of the World Bank, raising an additional $100 billion in lending capacity for the World Bank could require donors to put up about $20 billion in cash. The cost to the United States, which holds 16 percent of shares, would be $3.2 billion, an amount that could be paid out over five years.

Getting new money in the door is important, but it’s not enough. The bank also should adopt new strategies and new rules that will allow it to funnel money more quickly to where it is needed the most and will be used most effectively. For instance, some small island states have per capita incomes that are too high for concessional loans according to World Bank rules, despite their acute vulnerability to climate change. Those rules should be revisited, in some cases, to make sure that climate financing is prioritizing the areas that will make the biggest difference.

The bank should also provide more grants and below-market financing related to climate, as Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts has called for. The World Bank and multilateral development banks provided only 15 percent of their adaptation finance and less than 5 percent of mitigation finance through grants — a fraction he called “shockingly low.” By comparison, Green Climate Fund, a multilateral climate fund, issued grants 41 percent of the time for adaptation and mitigation projects.

The transformation that is required at the World Bank will not be easy. But the departure of its former president, David Malpass, who says he will resign in June, might help build confidence in the bank’s climate work. Mr. Malpass, who was nominated by the Trump administration in 2019, has been the subject of controversy since his bewildering public refusal last year to acknowledge the role of human activity in extreme weather resulting from climate change.

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