It has been six months since former College President Jim Yong Kim traded one presidential title for another at the World Bank. Kim, now head of the World Bank, spent his first months listening to staff and the board of directors and aims to make the bank less bureaucratic, he said in an interview with The Washington Post. Since the bank’s November report on climate change, Kim has signaled that the bank seeks to help countries assess and manage risks related to global warming, according to Bloomberg.
Kim urged countries to cooperate with one another to combat climate change in a Jan. 24 op-ed in The Post. He warned that the earth’s atmospheric temperature may increase by up to four degrees Celsius by the end of this century, and would cause widespread catastrophic results if no urgent action is taken.
Kim encouraged governments to institute carbon emissions reduction initiatives in order to keep global warming below two degrees Celsius and avoid environmental crises, like rising sea levels and extreme weather conditions. Governments should make it their top priority to promote low-carbon growth by setting predictable energy prices that reflect environmental costs, he said.
Last week, Kim asked international governments to help create a global carbon market at the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland.
Carbon markets are appealing in theory but do not work well in practice, environmental studies professor D. G. Webster said in an email.
Implementing carbon taxes and reducing fuel subsidies, though unpopular, are more effective ways of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Governments should invest the money saved on subsidies in cheap, sustainable alternatives for transportation and manufacturing to reduce the financial burden on the poor, according to Webster.
Kim’s suggested focus on reforming cities’ energy use is a good idea but insufficient.
“I would prefer a more holistic approach to greening the entire economy,” she said.
Thomas Blinkhorn, a lecturer at the Institute for Lifelong Education at Dartmouth who worked at the World Bank for 30 years and continues to serve as a consultant, approved of Kim’s recent proposals.
Blinkhorn said he is pleased to see Kim use his new position to raise public awareness about global warming.
The Obama administration’s emphasis on climate change is also encouraging, given previous administrations’ lack of attention to the issue.
“Climate change impacts everything health, agriculture, water supply, sanitation and so on,” Blinkhorn said. “So climate change has to be integrated into the country assistance programs that the World Bank offers.”
Kim wrote that governments should focus on eliminating harmful fuel subsidies around the world, which could result in a 5 percent decrease in emissions by 2020. The world’s 100 largest cities, which generate 67 percent of energy-related emissions, are both centers of green innovations and the most vulnerable to climate change.
The World Bank partners with countries to help them mitigate and adapt to the consequences of accelerated climate change, Blinkhorn said.
Of the 187 countries that jointly own the World Bank, 100 are active borrowers with climate change dimensions built into their assistance programs. The World Bank’s partnership efforts include disaster risk insurance and development marketplace initiatives. The disaster risk insurance initiative pools countries’ resources to provide cash to those affected by extreme weather conditions, according to Blinkhorn.
“This initiative is important because we have learned from past environmental disasters that victims do not only need shelter, food and health care,” he said. “One of the immediate things they need is hard cash, and this initiative offers them hope that this money will be falling faster.”
The World Bank has a long history of investing in large-scale energy projects in developing countries but been less concerned with energy efficiency, according to environmental studies and geography professor Christopher Sneddon.
The World Bank has shown a greater interest in energy efficiency and renewable energy resources in the past decade, Sneddon said.
“But there’s a long distance between rhetoric and actual implementation of policy,” he said. “The World Bank would have to overcome hurdles from both global and national politics.”
The bank cannot single-handedly achieve a social transformation, which requires an increase in public and private willingness to invest, Webster said.
Finding a solution to the climate change problem will require a multidisciplinary approach, which Kim is well equipped to pursue due to his experience as a doctor and anthropologist, according to Blinkhorn.
The bank aims to reduce poverty in developing countries by funding economic development projects, Webster said.
“Weighing the short-term needs of impoverished nations against the long-term vulnerability of the entire world is the tricky bit,” she said. “Kim and the World Bank must balance these needs well.”
Many people criticize Kim for continuing the World Bank’s policy of funding coal-fired energy plants in poor countries because the plants contribute to global warming, she said. But, as Kim has argued, the vast majority of greenhouse gases were produced in the past by today’s developed countries.
“The greenhouse gases are also currently consumed in developed countries even though they are produced in newly industrialized countries like China,” she said. “It seems unfair to ask the poorest in the world to pay the costs.”