World Bank President David Malpass defended the institution's commitment to tackling climate change on Tuesday, telling civil society groups that have criticized his leadership on the issue that the bank is focused on global warming.
"We are clearly prioritizing climate," Malpass told a town hall held during the World Bank Group's annual meetings, responding to several questions about the World Bank's climate change work.
The World Bank spent a record $31.7 billion on climate-related investments, exceeding its goal of dedicating 35% of its investments to climate co-benefits, he added.
The World Bank chief has spent the last few weeks on the defensive about the Bank's and his own record on climate change after remarks at a public appearance rekindled critics' concerns the financial institution was not responding to the climate crisis.
Malpass was asked at a New York Times event last month whether he believes the "manmade burning of fossil fuels is rapidly and dangerously warming the planet." Malpass tried at first to dodge the question but later said: "I don't even know. I'm not a scientist."
At Tuesday's event Malpass said: "I'm not a climate denier. That was misinformation. And we are working very hard at the World Bank to reduce greenhouse gas emissions throughout all of our tools and programs."
A report released last week by a coalition of more than 50 NGOs called Big Shift Global said since the Paris climate agreement in 2015, the World Bank has provided nearly $15 billion of finance directly to fossil fuel projects and likely gave even more in indirect funding.
"We have not lent a single dollar in the World Bank and IBRD (International Bank for Reconstruction and Development) directly to fossil fuels last year," Juergen Voegele, vice president of sustainable development at the World Bank, said in addressing that report's findings. "But we have had a trajectory that is completely gone down. And I think that needs to be acknowledged."
When asked whether the Bank will continue to fund natural gas projects, Malpass said it is currently working to decide whether the fossil fuel is aligned with Paris agreement goals.
In the meantime, he said natural gas will help some low-income countries gain access to electricity.
"There's a recognition by the international community that... where countries have no other alternative, that natural gas is part of an expansion of electricity access," he said.