(Bloomberg) -- World Bank President David Malpass sought to deflect mounting calls for his resignation on Thursday by publicly acknowledging that humanity’s use of fossil fuels is contributing to global warming.

In an interview on CNN International Thursday and a separate email to World Bank staff, Malpass said “it’s clear” that the burning of oil, natural gas and coal is generating greenhouse-gas emissions. “There needs to be more production of cleaner energy,” he told CNN.

In a panel discussion just two days earlier, Malpass dodged questions on whether he accepted the scientific consensus that the burning of fossil fuels is driving global warming, saying he was “not a scientist.” His remarks drew the ire of many, with former Vice President Al Gore labeling Malpass a “climate denier” and calling for his ouster.

Malpass’s remarks raised eyebrows within the Biden administration and sparked renewed criticism of both the bank and its chief. Environmental activists had already been calling on the World Bank and other multilateral lenders, including the International Monetary Fund, to do more to accelerate clean-energy ventures and halt funding for fossil-fuel projects.

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“I’m not a denier,” Malpass said on CNN Thursday, adding: “I’m not always good at conveying the exact message,” and “I don’t always do the best job in answering questions or hearing what the questions are.”  

In a message to World Bank staff obtained by Bloomberg, Malpass went further: “It’s clear that greenhouse-gas emissions from human activities are causing climate change and that the sharp increase in the use of coal, diesel and heavy fuel oil in both advanced economies and developing countries is creating another wave of the climate crisis. Anything seen in a different light is incorrect and regrettable.”

Malpass’s assurances were doing little to assuage critics Thursday.

“His first response reveals his true colors,” said Jake Schmidt, senior strategic director of the international climate program at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “The reality is that under Malpass the World Bank has become the key laggard amongst the multilateral development banks.”

And Representative Maxine Waters, a Democrat from California who heads the House Financial Services Committee, called the World Bank chief’s initial remarks “extremely concerning.”

“Malpass is undermining the World Bank’s leadership in the global response to the threat of climate change, which, in turn, threatens the bank’s relevance in every other area, including its mission to alleviate poverty and promote sustainable growth,” she said in an emailed statement.

Malpass, 66, was nominated to the post in 2019 by then-President Donald Trump. For the World Bank leader to be dismissed before his term ends in 2024, he would either need to be removed by the board, which has never happened, or he could potentially be forced to step down if his position became untenable.

But Malpass insisted Thursday he had the full confidence of the board of the World Bank, adding that there’s been strong support for the direction the lender is taking. 

He also said that the US -- which is the World Bank’s biggest shareholder and most influential voice when it comes to choosing the bank’s leadership -- has supported the lender’s efforts on getting countries to improve debt transparency. 

Gas Projects

Environmentalists have criticized the World Bank’s lingering support for natural gas projects, including an LNG venture in Mozambique, despite its earlier pivot away from financing coal plants.

Malpass argued the Mozambique project had strong shareholder support and “made it possible to avoid more carbon-intensive activities.”

The World Bank chief also cast the lender as a leader in financing climate-friendly green projects.

“We put more into climate-change commitments than the entire G-7 governments combined,” Malpass said, adding that the World Bank supported $31.7 billion in climate efforts in fiscal year 2022. “One thing that frustrates me is it’s tempting for other entities in the world to say ‘well, the World Bank’s not doing enough,’” yet “the reality is the World Bank’s doing more, really, than anyone else.”

(Updates with Malpass message to staff and other comments, from seventh paragraph.)

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