New World Bank Head Wants to Address Climate Change

Jim Yong Kim

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Jim Yong Kim, the new president of the World Bank, said in Tokyo today that dealing with climate change will be one of his priorities. "Since becoming president of the World Bank, I have looked deeply into the data on climate change, and I have to say I was surprised that even in last 6 months to a year, the data has become ever more frightening," he said. "As a scientist, I feel a moral responsibility to be very clear in communicating the dangers of climate change."

Kim, a public health specialist with a long track record of involvement in developing countries and the former president of Dartmouth College, took office on 1 July. He is overseeing the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank Group Annual Meetings this week in Tokyo. In a morning press conference and at an afternoon public forum hosted by The Wall Street Journal (videos available), Kim admitted that the bank faces a host of challenges given current economic trends. But he said he remained optimistic that developed countries will recognize the global benefits that will come from continuing to support the bank's work, which Kim said would include attention to mitigating and adapting to climate change.

"I think the question we have to ask ourselves is not simply is climate change real or not, I think we have to begin looking hard at what the world is going to look like for our children," he said. But Kim added that he wants to go beyond painting a "doomsday picture." "We have to encourage the best and brightest companies and countries to seize opportunities and understand that their path to economic growth could very well be engaging in finding new technologies and new approaches of mitigating climate change."

Kim is the first scientist to head the World Bank; typically the position goes to economists or career public servants. Another need that he said he recognizes because of his academic background, first at Harvard Medical School in Boston and later at Dartmouth, is to expand access to and improve education in developing countries. And, referring to his public health background, Kim noted that some of the discussions this week focus on ways to help developing countries build comprehensive, universal health care systems.

Kim's overriding goal, however, is the elimination of poverty. He has posed this question to the bank's experts: "What can we do to fundamentally change the arc of history to end absolute poverty more quickly than is currently predicted." While head of the World Health Organization's HIV/AIDS program in the mid-2000s, Kim set an ambitious goal of providing treatment for 3 million HIV/AIDS patients in developing countries within a set time frame. (The goal was met, though a couple years late.) He said that by the time of the next IMF and World Bank Annual Meetings, he intends to set a similarly "reasonable and audacious" target for ending poverty.