David Malpass: World Bank chief pressed by climate questions

In his four years as World Bank President, David Malpass oversaw its response to crises ranging from the Covid-19 pandemic to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and food and energy shortages.

But the lead-up to the announcement Wednesday that he would leave the development lender nearly a year early — by late June — has been bugged by a climate denial row.

Malpass, 66, was a senior Treasury official when he was tapped to lead the World Bank in 2019 by then-President Donald Trump.

Prior to taking over the helm, he had lambasted big development lenders as wasteful and ineffective, calling for reforms.

Institutions such as the World Bank, he said in congressional testimony in 2017, “spend a lot of money” but are “not very efficient.”

In 2007, the eve of the financial crisis, Malpass penned a Wall Street Journal op-ed telling readers not to “panic” because “housing and debt markets are not that big a part of the US economy.”

In 2010, as the Federal Reserve was pumping cash into markets, he signed onto a letter to Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke calling for an end to the stimulus program, which he said would drive up inflation. It did not.

That year, he also made a foray into politics, waging an unsuccessful campaign to become the Republican senator from New York.

He was also an economic adviser to Trump’s presidential campaign in 2016.

– Climate questions –
Climate activists have long called for Malpass to be removed from his position for what they called an inadequate approach to the climate crisis.

These voices have grown louder since his appearance at a conference last September, when he was asked to respond to a claim by former US vice president Al Gore that he was a climate change denier.

Malpass declined multiple times to say if he believed man-made emissions were warming the planet, responding that he was not a scientist and later drawing a rebuke from the White House.

“We expect the World Bank to be a global leader” on the climate crisis response, Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told a White House briefing.

She added that the Treasury Department “has and will continue to make that expectation clear to the World Bank leadership.”

Malpass had since sought to course-correct, acknowledging that emissions were coming from man-made sources.

His departure would give President Joe Biden’s administration a window to choose a candidate who can oversee the push of the lender’s reforms.

– Surprise –
Since taking leadership at the Washington-based lender, Malpass has overseen progress on its global crisis response package to support developing countries grappling with multiple shocks.

He also started work on the bank’s evolution roadmap to help it more effectively address cross-border challenges like climate change and pandemics.

During his tenure, the World bank mobilized a record $440 billion responding to crises including the pandemic, climate problems and food shortages, and the group more than doubled its climate finance to developing countries.

“This is still a little bit of a surprise,” said Clemence Landers, a former Treasury official who worked on US engagement with the World Bank and is now a policy fellow at the Center for Global Development.

She noted that the announcement is 14 months before he was officially scheduled to step down, but said that she thinks shareholders have been pushing for “a very ambitious reform agenda.”

She believes there has been debate at the board of the World Bank, on whether it should officially add a third mission surrounding climate change and resilience, but it is unclear if such a push has been met with an energetic response.

“I think that the hope and expectation is that whoever replaces Mr Malpass at the head of the institution will be someone who’s much more aligned with… the collective vision for the institution and where the shareholders want to take it,” she said.

© Agence France-Presse