World Bank President Leads Charge Against Climate Change

Jim Kim
Jim Kim
World Bank

The World Bank unveiled its plan to end extreme poverty by 2030 recently.

The rapid progress of India, China and Brazil blazed the path towards exceeding the global Millennium Development Goal of halving poverty by 2015. Now the Bank wants to rid the world of extreme poverty forever.

Ending extreme poverty will require the acceleration of economic growth in developing countries and translating that growth into jobs while eliminating inequality, said World Bank President Jim Kim in a blogger call yesterday morning. Work must be done to mitigate the shocks caused by natural disasters and eliminate the insecurity linked to food, fuel and poverty, he added.

Linking all of these problems, for Kim, is climate change.

“Climate change is not just an environmental challenge. It’s a fundamental threat to economic development and the fight against poverty,” he said.

Achieving transformative change against poverty and its effects requires taking bold action against the problem of climate change, argued Kim. 130 countries requested the World Bank for assistance in climate-related work. Kim pointed to the provision of solar energy to 1.4 million Bangladeshi homes and the drought safety nets that support 7.8 million Ethiopians as examples of climate-related policies at work.

The World Bank is not the only body linking climate change mitigation and poverty alleviation. The UN Development Programme’s (UNDP) Human Development Report warned that inaction against climate change could reverse progress against poverty.

“The number of people in extreme poverty could increase by up to 3 billion by 2050 unless environmental disasters are averted by co-ordinated global action,” said the report.

Developing countries account for less then 1/3 of carbon emissions when China is excluded, but they are most vulnerable to the natural disasters exacerbated by climate change. The Sahel and Horn of Africa face near-cyclical droughts and hurricanes continue to batter the already earthquake-ravaged Haiti.

While UNDP stressed the importance of fostering south-south cooperation, Kim spoke about the need to increase access to sustainable energy for the world’s poor and a move to clean energy in the West. The World Bank doubled its investments in renewable energy sources over the past five years, but there is still more work to be done, said Kim.

“Expanding access to sustainable energy for the poorest and most marginalized people in this world will be a key driver to helping the world meet the goal of ending extreme poverty,” argued Kim.

Developing countries will not generate the accelerated growth that the World Bank says is necessary for progress without improved access to electricity. Kim said that the lack of growth then prevents the development of new jobs which leaves people vulnerable to problems like childhood malnutrition.

That means prioritizing access to energy. When asked about moving towards cleaner energy sources, Kim said that the ideal is to find clean, renewable and sustainable options, but that may not always be the case.

“The goal in Africa has to be rapid scale up of access to energy. There’s just going to be no way that Africa is going to be able to lift its people out of poverty without access to energy,” he said.

Promising technologies include solar, hydroelectric and geothermal power sources, according to Kim. The good news is that countries are beginning to realize the problem of climate change. Data showing that 1.2 million people in China died due to pollution-related causes caught the attention of the country to address both pollution and climate change, said Kim.

However, humanitarian concerns remain paramount when it comes to clean energy. When pressed on the support of coal energy in Kosovo, Kim explained that access has to remain at the forefront.

“The climate change and the coal issue is one thing, but the humanitarian issue is another, and we cannot turn our backs on the people of Kosovo who face freezing to death if we don’t move in,” said Kim.

“We’ve got make sure they have energy and then do everything we can in everything else we do to go to clean energy,” Kim explained earlier.

Energy will even be a part of the World Bank’s plans for its work in the Sahel region. Kim said he plans to join the UN Secretary General for a joint visit to the region that faced widespread drought last year and appears to not be in the clear due to another poor crop season.

Beyond renewable energy sources, Kim spoke of improving irrigation systems and introducing new varieties of wheat and corn. One wheat variety has significantly deeper roots that make them better equipped to face low rain seasons. The roots also allow for more carbon to be deposited back into the earth creating what Kim called a ‘multiple-win situation.’

“Our commitment in the Sahel is to try to find solutions to the energy, to the agriculture problem, and if we can find solutions to the energy and agriculture problem, then we can also hit poverty and malnutrition at the same time,” said Kim summing up the World Bank’s new direction.

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Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]humanosphere.org.