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World Bank President, Dogged by Climate Questions, Will Step Down Early

World Bank President, Dogged by Climate Questions, Will Step Down Early

David Malpass, under fire for months by critics who accused him of climate denialism, said he would resign in June, a year before his term ends.

David Malpass, the embattled president of the World Bank, said on Wednesday that he would step down by June, roughly a year before his term expires.

Mr. Malpass, who was nominated in 2019 for a five-year term by President Donald J. Trump, has overseen an organization that lends billions of dollars each year to poor countries grappling with health crises, hunger, conflict and a warming planet.

But last September he came under fire for his own views on climate change. When asked if he accepted the overwhelming scientific consensus that the burning of fossil fuels was causing global temperatures to rise, he demurred. “I’m not a scientist,” he said.

The exchange, during a live interview at a New York Times event, set off a slow-motion public relations crisis for Mr. Malpass that came to a head on Wednesday when he said he would resign from his role by June 30.

“Having made much progress, and after a good deal of thought, I’ve decided to pursue new challenge,” Mr. Malpass, 66, said in a statement that was issued shortly after he informed the board of the bank as well as senior staff about his intention to resign.

Asked about the reason for his early departure, Mr. Malpass said in a text message that he was “very proud of my over four years of hard, successful work here.”

“I’m leaving on my own schedule, having managed effectively through multiple global crises,” he said.

During his tenure, Mr. Malpass led the bank through global recession triggered by the coronavirus pandemic and Russia’s war in Ukraine, which upended the world economy.

The departure of Mr. Malpass is likely to add new urgency to sweeping changes that were already underway at the World Bank. It will also give President Biden, who came to office with an ambitious climate agenda, the opportunity to install a leader whose term will stretch until 2028.

For years, the bank has been criticized for being insufficiently responsive to the needs of countries that have been battered by increasingly severe weather made worse by climate change, and for a lending model that burdens poor nations with heavy debt.

Last year, calls for reform at the World Bank as well as its sister institution, the International Monetary Fund, picked up steam, leading many of the bank’s major shareholders, including the United States, France and Germany, to call for change. At the United Nations climate talks in Egypt in November, the prospect of an overhaul to the two institutions became a focus of the world leaders in attendance.

Mr. Malpass, who was an official at the Treasury Department during the Trump administration, came to his job at the World Bank in 2019 without much of a track record on climate issues. Environmental activists were wary, pointing to remarks he made in 2007 suggesting he did not believe there was a link between carbon emissions and global warming.

But it was not until the interview in September that critics seized on the issue and questioned Mr. Malpass’s fitness for the job.

Although he walked back his initial response and said in subsequent interviews that he accepted that fossil fuels were warming the planet, he was unable to shake the controversy.

At the United Nations climate talks in Egypt, he was confronted by a reporter for The Guardian, who asked him if he was a climate denier. Climate scientists and activists continued to call for his removal. And Senator Ed Markey, Democrat of Massachusetts, promised to try and force out Mr. Malpass.

On Wednesday, Mr. Markey joined other critics of Mr. Malpass to applaud his resignation.

“His support for fossil fuels and abject failure to fund climate action is unacceptable,” Mr. Markey said in a statement. “Now, the World Bank must make up for his missteps and get ready to be part of the solution for a livable future.”

Former vice president Al Gore, who had also called Mr. Malpass a climate denier and campaigned for his removal, said in a statement that his departure “must be the first step toward true reform that places the climate crisis at the center of the bank’s work.”

While critics said Mr. Malpass wasn’t moving fast enough, he had been making an effort in recent months to step up. Last month, the bank produced a document known as the “evolution road map,” that outlined how it could do more to help countries facing disasters being made worse by a warming planet and other threats.

He also oversaw a growing portfolio of loans designed to help countries adapt to climate change and transition to renewable power. In November, for example, the bank agreed to lend South Africa $440 million to help convert a coal power plant into one that will run on renewables and batteries.

Janet Yellen, the Treasury secretary, complimented Mr. Malpass in a statement.

“While we all must continue to raise our collective ambitions in the fight against climate change, during President Malpass’ tenure the World Bank has made important recent advances in this area,” she said.

The Treasury Department, which leads the White House’s engagement with the World Bank, will have an influential role in selecting the organization’s next leader. As the bank’s largest shareholder, the United States traditionally selects the president.

“It’s credit to him and to the Biden administration that this appeared to be a gracious exit,” said Scott Morris, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development, a nonprofit research organization. “I think it was understood clearly that they had a certain preference when it came to the leadership bank and it wasn’t him.”

Possible replacements could include Rajiv Shah, the head of the Rockefeller Foundation; Samantha Power, the head of the United States Agency for International Development; and Indra Nooyi, the former chief executive of PepsiCo; according to global development experts.

A World Bank official said that Mr. Malpass’ early departure was most likely the result of the bank’s expanded focus on climate change and other public goods as part of the its “evolution road map.”

Mr. Malpass’s original vision was to focus on the bank’s historic mission of raising incomes in developing countries, the official said, adding that it made sense that a new leader with more “green” credentials take over for the bank’s next chapter.

Alan Rappeport contributed reporting from Washington.

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