We need outspoken leaders who understand the risks of climate change and who can reach a global audience, willing to prod inactive governments and counteract the corporate power and cynicism of the oil companies.
US Secretary of State John Kerry is certainly expressing the appropriate concern about the risks, but with the US Congress still in denial, his voice is too easy to ignore.
We still await climate change leadership to emerge in other high C-emitting countries such as China. Meanwhile countries that should have become climate change leaders have instead become international embarrassments: Australia has ditched its cap-and-trade policy, while the anti-science, pro-oil actions of the government of Canada continue to expand.
So it is refreshing, surprising, and maybe even hopeful to have Jim Yong Kim, President of the World Bank, speaking out over the past few months about the serious risks and costs of climate change. Kim, a physician, anthropologist and past president of Dartmouth is the first with any training in science to hold the position.
The World Bank is a UN international financial institution. It gives out loans to developing countries with a primary mission of reducing poverty. It doles out about 20 billion US dollars per year, which sounds like a lot, but that’s about what Facebook just paid for Whatsapp. It also gets its share of criticisms for how it operates and and how it manages the money.
What Kim has done in his recent speeches is to emphasize the link between the impact of climate change and poverty.
“Unless the world takes bold action now, a disastrously warming planet threatens to put prosperity out of reach of millions and roll back decades of development. Those least able to adapt – the poor and vulnerable – will be hit hardest.”
Kim talks a lot about the financial costs of climate change, and how much cheaper it is to make changes now rather than face the far greater costs 30 or 40 years from now. He reminds us that cities are the source of 2/3 of our CO2 emissions, and that among our challenges now is to make them low-carbon, and climate-resilient.
A few weeks ago Kim announced ex-NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg’s new appointment.
“The appointment of Michael R. Bloomberg as a Special Envoy for Cities and Climate Change to the United Nations should be applauded from Beijing to Rio to Mumbai. His selection is a huge boost for global leadership efforts to combat climate change.” And so it should be.
Kim speaks of all this as a paradigm shift, a time of transformational change.
How do we get there?
And a final quote from Kim:
“Tackling climate change is not an effort that governments can take on alone. We need a response that brings together governments, private sector, civil society, and individuals, following a coordinated, ambitious plan. We can help in many ways, but perhaps most fruitfully by highlighting the increasing costs of climate change and by mobilizing climate finance from the public and private sectors.”
And that’s the problem. We haven’t figured out yet how to create such a response, but create one we must.