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The World Bank president, David Malpass, has announced his resignation months after sparking controversy by failing to say whether he accepted that fossil fuels were driving the climate crisis.
Malpass, who was appointed to the post by Donald Trump in 2019, said he would step down from the multilateral development bank, which provides billions of dollars a year in funding for developing economies, by the end of June.
Malpass offered no specific reason for the decision, and did not explain why he was leaving the bank with less than a year remaining in his five-year term. He said in a statement: “After a good deal of thought, I’ve decided to pursue new challenges.”
However, Malpass’s departure comes just months after he was forced to push back against claims he was a climate crisis denier.
The controversy started after he appeared on a climate finance panel at a conference in New York in September. Asked repeatedly whether he believed “manmade burning of fossil fuels …[are] rapidly and dangerously warming the planet,” Malpass tried to dodge the question before saying: “I don’t even know. I’m not a scientist.”
The answer drew condemnation from the White House, and raised pressure on Malpass, who eventually used an interview with CNN International to try to quell the controversy. “I’m not a denier,” Malpass told the broadcaster.
However, the incident reignited calls for a leadership shake-up at the bank, where pressure has been building to pave the way for a new president who would make changes and ensure it responded to the climate crisis more aggressively.
In November 2021, the special adviser to the UN secretary-general on climate change, Selwin Hart, criticized the World Bank for “fiddling while the developing world burns” and said the institution had been an “ongoing underperformer” on climate action.
World Bank president David Malpass has resigned months after dodging a question about fossil fuels’ link to the climate crisis. “After a good deal of thought, I’ve decided to pursue new challenges,” he said.
The U.S. special envoy on climate change, John Kerry, has said he wants to work with Germany to come up with a strategy by the next World Bank Group meetings in April to “enlarge the capacity of the bank” to put more money into circulation and help countries deal with climate breakdown.
Recently, the U.S. treasury secretary, Janet Yellen, launched a major push to change the way the World Bank operates to ensure broader lending to combat the climate crisis and other global challenges.
Yellen issued a statement thanking Malpass for his service. “The world has benefited from his strong support for Ukraine in the face of Russia’s illegal and unprovoked invasion, his vital work to assist the Afghan people, and his commitment to helping low-income countries achieve debt sustainability through debt reduction.”
Yellen said the US would soon nominate a replacement for Malpass and looked forward to the bank’s board undertaking a “transparent, merit-based and swift nomination process for the next World Bank president.”
By longstanding tradition, the U.S. government selects the head of the World Bank, while European leaders choose the leader of its larger partner, the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Malpass took up the role in April 2019 after serving as the top official for international affairs at the U.S. treasury in the Trump administration. In 2022, the World Bank committed more than $104bn (£86bn) to projects around the globe, according to the bank’s annual report.
A source familiar with his thinking said Malpass had informed Yellen of his decision on Tuesday.
The end of the fiscal year at the end of June was a natural time to step aside, the source said. The World Bank’s governors are expected to approve the bank’s roadmap for reforms with only minor changes at the spring meetings of the IMF and World Bank set for mid-April.
Still, World Bank sources said they were surprised by Malpass’s decision to step down before the joint meetings of the World Bank and the IMF in Morocco in October.