The United States is nominating former Mastercard CEO Ajay Banga to lead the World Bank, President Joe Biden announced on Thursday, crediting him with critical experience on global challenges including climate change.
The news comes days after Trump appointee David Malpass announced plans to step down in June from his role leading the 189-nation poverty reduction agency. His five-year term was due to expire in April 2024.
Addressing the impacts of climate change at the multilateral bank is a priority for the U.S. And leading climate figures have urged the Biden administration to use Malpass’ early departure as an opening to overhaul the powerful financial institution, which has been increasingly criticized as hostile to less-wealthy nations and efforts to address climate change.
Malpass ran into criticism last year for seeming, in comments at a conference, to cast doubt on the science that says the burning of fossil fuels causes global warming. He later apologized and said he had misspoken, noting that the bank routinely relies on climate science.
Banga, currently vice chairman at private equity firm General Atlantic, has more than 30 years of business experience, having served in various roles at Mastercard and the boards of the American Red Cross, Kraft Foods and Dow Inc. He is the first Indian-born nominee to the World Bank president role.
“Ajay is uniquely equipped to lead the World Bank at this critical moment in history,” Biden said in a statement, adding that Banga “has critical experience mobilizing public-private resources to tackle the most urgent challenges of our time, including climate change.”
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said in a statement that Banga’s experience “will help him achieve the World Bank’s objectives of eliminating extreme poverty and expanding shared prosperity while pursuing the changes needed to effectively evolve the institution,” which include meeting “ambitious goals for climate adaptation and emissions reduction.”
Biden’s climate envoy, John Kerry, said on Twitter that Banga was “the right choice.”
“He can help put in place new policies that help deploy the large sums of money necessary to reduce global emissions and help developing and vulnerable countries adapt, build resilience, and mitigate the impact of greenhouse gases,” Kerry tweeted.
The United States has traditionally picked the World Bank chief. The head of its sister agency, the International Monetary Fund, has traditionally come from Europe. But critics have called for an end to that arrangement and for developing countries to gain a bigger voice in the two organizations.
The World Bank has promised to conduct “an open, merit-based and transparent selection process″ and said it would accept nominations through March 29.
Eric LeCompte, executive director of the anti-poverty coalition Jubilee USA Network, said the United States was “looking to nominate people that will be supported by the developing world” and that it was “incredibly relevant’’ that Banga was born in India. “They want to be able to appoint people who have experience and roots with other economies,’’ LeCompte said.
“I can’t think of a more intense time for a person to be coming into this job,” said Clemence Landers, policy fellow at the Center for Global Development, a Washington think tank.
The bank is under pressure to expand its mandate — an effort that likely would require the next president to convince donor countries to provide more money.
Critics say the bank should be doing more to help poor countries finance projects to combat and prepare for climate change without saddling them with heavy debt burdens. And Landers said it needs to do a better job at tackling problems that cross borders such as providing pandemic surveillance and backing broad vaccination programs.