December 4, 2016 7:00 pm JST

UN's new man in Japan wants to build bridges with business

World body's think tank taps professor with penchant for tackling global issues

JUNICHI TAKI, Nikkei senior staff writer

TOKYO -- A University of Tokyo professor appointed to help run a United Nations think tank aims to "connect" the world body with corporate Japan. 

Taikan Oki, 52, in October was named senior vice-rector of the United Nations University, a global think tank and postgraduate education center headquartered in central Tokyo. Oki is younger than his predecessors and is the first active university professor to hold the post.

The U.N. seeks to collaborate with companies and investors, in order to tap private money for its missions -- from the Sustainable Development Goals initiative to the Paris Agreement on climate change that took effect in early November. 

Businesses, meanwhile, are increasingly recognizing that it is in their own long-term interest to tackle global challenges like poverty and pollution. Oki says his mission involves helping corporate Japan grasp the rapid changes sweeping the world.

Spanning fields and borders

As a boy, Oki loved science and idolized physicist Hideki Yukawa, the first Japanese Nobel laureate. In elementary school, Oki wrote in an essay that he, too, would one day win the Nobel Prize in physics. His interests later expanded to the humanities. In college, he decided to major in civil engineering, which draws on a mix of disciplines. 

Oki has been studying how water circulates in the ocean and the atmosphere. Scientists say accelerating global warming is beginning to affect this pattern across the planet.

As part of his international work, Oki helped draw up measures to cope with climate change in Thailand, which is prone to severe flooding. His eagerness to venture beyond academia, and across national boundaries, made him a prime candidate for the U.N. University post.

Though he has his hands full with two jobs, he is relishing the opportunity to get an insider's view of a sprawling international organization. "I'm interested in how societies or organizations function," he said.

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