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Speeches & Transcripts June 1, 2021

World Bank Group President David Malpass's Interview with Beatrice Janzon, Swedish Radio International

BEATRICE JANZON: Many children have been out of school during the pandemic, what will be the long-term effects?

DAVID MALPASS: Unfortunately, they are severe. What the data shows is that children who are out of school tend to go backward, and plus they lose the time in school. In other words, you're losing both the backward movement and the advanced that they should have had in terms of their learning skills during the days that they missed. The World Bank is very focused on helping children in developing countries get back to school.

MS. JANZON: What is needed for the developing countries to catch up on the economic recovery?

MR. MALPASS: They need to redouble their efforts on education, that's clear. But also, very importantly, it is the lack of vaccines right now. We're working hard to set up programs in individual countries -- we hope to have 50 countries and as much as $6 billion of financing available by mid-year by the end of June, to support the countries vaccination efforts. That includes the purchase of vaccines, some of it through COVAX, if they have some supplies that begin to become available. Some of the money goes to the deployment, the actual capacity-building in country. And then also there are needs to be a communication effort to overcome the hesitancy. In some of the developing countries, people are reluctant to be vaccinated, and yet that is going to be a life-saving development.

MS. JANZON: How important are the vaccinations for the developing countries?

MR. MALPASS: It's vital not only for the lives that are saved, but also to allow people's economies to get back on track. As we see in India, the economic setback from COVID -- from the outbreak is severe. Not only do you have hundreds of thousands of people losing their lives, millions around the world. But you also have the economic setback, while they fight the disease. These are very challenging. What we're doing at the Bank is trying to be very transparent in terms of the programs that we have and the contracts that we have. There's a website, and I encourage people to go on the website and see the documentation, because the vaccination efforts are actually very difficult for countries to carry out, even the advanced economies have had challenges. We're working directly with the developing countries to have programs in place. One thing that I'm urging is the countries that have sufficient vaccines, if they foresee that they will have enough for their people, then very quickly, will they please free up those vaccines to countries that have vaccination programs? There needs to be a matching between the available vaccines and the country programs. We have 50 country programs that are carefully documented, that are amply financed, and we need vaccines for those programs. It's been hard to get the advanced economies to free up their options and their control of the vaccine supply.

MS. JANZON: Are there any more efforts needed from rich countries?

MR. MALPASS: There can always be more. I think there will need to be some more financing and more production of course. As part of the World Bank, the International Finance Corporation, is able to make both equity and debt investments into countries that can increase their supply. We're working on several deals right now, that will enhance the supply. That's very important. I think the first priority, though, for the advanced economies is to be transparent in the availability of doses and then to match those doses with country programs that actually work. That, as we've seen in recent days in the media, that has not been happening. I really think there needs to be a redoubled effort to match the available supplies with country programs. As I say, the World Bank has 50 programs that are documented, that have safeguards to make sure that the vaccines are approved by safety regulators, and so on.

MS. JANZON: Did the World Bank underestimate the consequences of the pandemic?

MR. MALPASS: We took the pandemic very seriously from the beginning. So, as early as March and April of 2020, we were working many people working from home, but were able to produce a record surge in the activity of the Bank. We were able to put in place -- we now have 112 emergency health programs in 112 different countries, with 40 more operations underway right now that provided personal protective equipment, and that could be used for medicines, for therapeutics. Then, very quickly, we moved to the vaccination programs. I think the World Bank has been leaning forward heavily to get the job done. That the challenge, as I mentioned, is the supplies of vaccines have been non transparent; it's very hard to find out who has contracts, who actually has supply, and who will allow those supplies to be purchased by people, by developing countries. We have funding available. But the advanced economies and the manufacturers have not had the mechanisms to allow that supply to go to countries that have the capacity to actually do vaccinations.

MS. JANZON: When will the world go back to normal?

MR. MALPASS: I don't think it will ever really go fully back to normal. I do think that there will be more and more social interaction gradually. For example, we were talking earlier about education, there's no way to make up for the lost child years, you know, the years of schooling that went backward and were missed by children around the world, from the school closures. That can't be recovered -- what we can do is try to have as much progress starting now, as possible. That means new investments, that means accelerated learning education experiences, and also preparing health systems better than those before. The World Bank, we've had record delivery, in both -- in terms of absolute dollars, but also in terms of the percent change. This is the biggest single expansion the World Bank has ever done in terms of the delivery. That's helping. We also, I should note, rely on contributions from donor countries as well, a big chunk of the money that we get, comes by borrowing through credit markets. But another very important component comes from the donations of countries, the Nordic countries have been very generous in donations to IDA, that's the World Bank program for the poorest countries. We're right now in the process of fundraising through December for those needs. This goes to the 75 poorest countries in the world, and is desperately needed by them for food security, for health, education, and we welcome the support from countries around the world on that.

MS. JANZON: So a little bit about the climate then. Emerging economies like China and India are not keen on letting measures protecting the climate stopped economic growth. What more measures and initiatives do you want to see from these countries?

MR. MALPASS: These are very challenging issues. The World Bank is the biggest financer of climate initiatives. But you're exactly right that China and India have such big needs, it can't be financed by the World Bank. We can help and we do in in both of those countries, much more so in India, it's our biggest portfolio right now. But there's simply not enough money to help them generate electricity in a clean and sustainable green way. India's moving slowly on that as is China. The magnitude of the change is gigantic. They need to move from coal to lower-carbon electricity generation. Instead, they're building more and more coal fired power plants. The world needs to grapple with that. In the G20, in the other organizations, and with the World Bank, in our Climate Change Action Plan, we are looking to work with countries on what's called a just transition, that means a fair way for the countries to move to a much lower carbon footprint, while still generating electricity and the energy needed for them to make economic progress. Our climate change action plan is explicit in linking climate and development, that's important to actually get countries to do it, they have to recognize that we want them both to develop, but to do it in greener ways. Another key part of our new Climate Change Action Plan is the idea that we're going to spend record amounts on climate. But we also want to get record results, we want to have the most impact possible from the climate financing that we provide. And that means really analyzing, doing the diagnostics to see where the biggest changes can occur, not just spending the money but actually having it have an impact.

MS. JANZON: The International Energy Agency has released a new report that all the financing of new coal, oil and gas projects should stop immediately to live up to the 1.5 temperature target in the Paris Agreement. How will the World Bank act?

MR. MALPASS: That report also noted how difficult that would be, that it's implausible that countries will take that path. What the World Bank is doing, is identifying the biggest opportunities. That means for example, those developing countries that are expanding, are still expanding their greenhouse gas emissions, working with them to change their course, in a way that is consistent with their development plans. We're preparing, we're working directly with the countries on their NDCs, the Nationally Determined Contributions, as part of the Paris Agreement. Our own funding is aligned with the Paris Agreement. We're taking steps internally to do as much as we can. But we should also recognize that the magnitude of the problem for populations around the world is gigantic, there needs to be practical solutions that will really change the course of greenhouse gas emissions.

MS. JANZON: Will the World Bank change any investments?

MR. MALPASS: The World Bank, as you may know, stopped doing investments in coal, many years ago. What the bank is doing, as I mentioned, is a record of funding of green projects and of resilience that's consistent with development; where we've committed to having half of our climate spending, go to adaptation. That helps the poorer countries. You know, there's an anomaly that the poorest 75 IDA countries produce only 4% of the world's greenhouse gas emissions, and yet, they feel the impact the most through climate change. We're working with those countries on preparing for climate change in ways that have the most impact for them. We're expanding, as I mentioned, our financing will do record spending on climate efforts. And also, we're working to have the diagnostics, the measurement, so that we can help countries find the most effective use for the financing. It doesn't make sense to have countries, poor countries spend a lot of money on changes that won't have much impact, they should be spending financing and the available resources on the biggest changes. One clear example is moving away from the destruction of mangrove swamps, which are carbon sinks, they help very much on global carbon levels. And yet, there has still been a process to tear those down and we’re looking to rebuild those and above all stop the reduction in the quantity of mangrove swamps.

MS. JANZON: What hopeful signs do you see for the future?

MR. MALPASS: Well, we should recognize that the amazing technology that is in the vaccines and the very prompt availability of vaccines for the advanced economies. Now, the world needs to do much better in making those available for the poorer countries. But the vaccines exist. And in many areas, I think there is technological progress that's allowing people to think differently about problems, to be interconnected in ways that are useful for global knowledge. Farmers in poor countries can look on their phones, or on the internet, or through their friends, and find out what farmers nearby are planting. That helps them know the best techniques, the types of seeds, the types of fertilizer that are working. And that's true around the world in terms of better techniques for people to get along. I think we really need to be thinking also about the Arctic. This is a giant global resource that needs to be preserved. I worry that the dynamics are not in place to do that carefully enough right now.