In a Tuesday speech at Georgetown University, World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim announced his intention to eliminate extreme poverty worldwide by the year 2030.
"With the end of extreme poverty within our grasp, we want to set an aggressive timeline to focus our efforts and maintain a sense of urgency," he said. "The date of 2030 is highly ambitious...To reach the 2030 goal, we must halve global poverty once, then halve it again, and then nearly halve it a third time, all in less than one generation."
However, Kim insisted that the goal was achievable, and could be realized through accelerated economic growth and development around the world, particularly in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. The World Bank leader said that one of his "highest priorities" would be to replenish the International Development Association, a fund specifically for financing development projects in poorer countries.
Kim also emphasized climate change mitigation and efforts to reduce overall inequality. Climate change, he said, is "a fundamental threat to economic development and the fight against poverty." Emphasizing the urgency of immediate action, he noted that the average global temperature is currently on track to increase by four degrees Celsius before the end of the century. According to a World Bank report, such a dramatic shift in the global temperature could lead to a world "marked by extreme heat-waves, declining global food stocks, loss of ecosystems and biodiversity, and life-threatening sea level rise."
"A four degree world can still be avoided if we develop a plan and take concerted action that is equal to the challenge we face," said Kim. "To date, I believe our efforts to combat climate change have been too narrowly focused, small scale and uncoordinated. We can do better."
As recently as late March, critics, including Save the Children UK policy director Nuria Molina, have lambasted the World Bank for its "very unambitious" approach to ameliorating global poverty. "To address inequality you must also rein in growth at the top," Molina recently told The Guardian.
In his Tuesday speech, Kim tackled the issue of inequality head-on, arguing that a goal of reducing absolute inequality alone would be insufficient.
"Even if rapid economic expansion in the developing world continues, this doesn’t mean that everyone will automatically benefit from the development process," he said. "Assuring that growth is inclusive is both a moral imperative and a crucial condition for sustained economic development."
He approvingly cited Brazil's conditional cash transfer program, which pays monthly stipends to poor families based on their income and family size, as an effective method of reducing inequality and expanding economic inclusion.
"Other countries can adapt these and other proven strategies to tackle inequality in their own contexts," he said. "Success can spread."
Still, some World Bank watchdogs remain unpersuaded.
"Kim is obviously very good at using soaring rhetoric to motivate people to tackle poverty but he is still very unambitious in practice and too focused on economic growth as an end in itself," the Bretton Woods Project's Peter Chowla told The Guardian. "Talk of sharing the proceeds of growth is not the same as tackling inequality, which has soared in recent decades."