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  • Blog post

    The End of Poverty? The World Bank and the Shared Prosperity Agenda

    Within our lifetimes, the world could be free of widespread, extreme poverty, replaced instead with shared prosperity and environmental and fiscal balance. That was the vision World Bank President Jim Yong Kim outlined at his first Spring Meetings in Washington, D.C. last week.

    In a period of economic uncertainty, social exclusion, and climate and environmental crises, these goals hold immense promise. At the same time, for an institution already grappling with its redefined role in the coming decades, the Bank’s current capacity to support this vision will be tested.

    The Common Vision for the World Bank Group that was approved by the World Bank’s Development Committee on April 20th includes two goals the Bank will work towards:

    • alleviating extreme poverty by dropping the percentage of people living on less than U.S.$ 1.25 a day to 3 percent by 2030, and

    • promoting shared prosperity by fostering income growth of the bottom 40 percent of the population in every country

    These two core goals are supplemented by the Bank’s understanding that they cannot be achieved without credible action to ensure environmental sustainability, especially on climate change.

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  • Blog post

    More Transparency Needed to End Kyrgyzstan Energy Crisis

    Worldwide, one out of every five people lacks access to modern electricity. Affordability, quality of service, and social and environmental impacts pose great challenges in providing people with the power they need for lighting, cooking, and other activities. Good governance involving open and inclusive practices is essential to overcoming these pressing obstacles.

    This is part two of a four-part blog series, “Improving Electricity Governance,” which explores the key components involved in effective electricity governance. The series draws on the experiences of WRI’s Electricity Governance Initiative, documented in a new report, “Shining a Light on Electricity Governance.” Read more posts in this series.

    Three years after a political uprising overthrew the president of Kyrgyzstan, challenges still exist in the country’s energy sector. Before the revolution, the central Asian country suffered rolling blackouts, poor service, and skyrocketing prices, ultimately leading to nationwide revolts and the ouster of President Kurmanbek Bakiyev. Again this past winter, half of the people in the nation’s capital experienced a major blackout, leaving them without access to electricity during the coldest months of the year. The city still faces 900 outages per week.

    High energy demand, outdated transmission equipment, and power theft all put increasing stress on energy supplies, but issues of corruption and basic transparency exacerbate the crisis. Civil society groups are turning their attention to these issues to help improve Kyrgyzstan’s energy situation.

    These groups are working with a government initiative to open up the decision-making processes in a sector that has traditionally hidden behind closed doors. Their efforts to increase transparency are essential to creating meaningful reform in the Kyrgyz energy sector.

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  • Blog post

    RELEASE: 14 Latin American and Caribbean Countries Adopt an Ambitious Plan of Action to Improve Access Rights in the Region

    Fourteen Latin American and Caribbean countries adopted an ambitious Plan of Action to improve access rights in the region, including access to information, public participation, and access to justice.

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  • Blog post

    5 Steps to Improve the World Bank’s Social and Environmental Safeguards

    The World Bank’s annual spring meetings take place this week in Washington, D.C. One big topic on the agenda is how to update the World Bank’s “safeguard” policies. Created in the early 1990s, these policies ensure that the Bank considers the social and environmental effects of proposed projects. For example, the safeguards require those borrowing money to assess the project’s environmental impacts and to compensate households who are negatively affected.

    The full suite of safeguards is now under review for the first time. Among other things, the Bank hopes to make its safeguard policies reflect changes in the global economic and political landscape that have occurred in recent decades.

    World Bank Safeguards vs. National Safeguards

    One question on the table is how the World Bank safeguards should interact with national systems already in place in recipient countries. Since the creation of the Bank’s safeguards, many countries have strengthened their own rules and institutions to ensure that large-scale projects are implemented in a manner that protects people and the environment. These include, for instance, laws requiring environmental impact assessments, or government agencies to oversee land use changes. Relying on these domestic systems can potentially improve protection of people and the environment. National laws, for example, allow governments and citizens to work within their own familiar structures, and they’re sometimes more appropriate for local circumstances than Bank policies.

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  • Publication

    Putting the Pieces Together for Good Governance of REDD+

    An Analysis of 32 REDD+ Country Readiness Proposals

    This working paper presents positive trends and overarching gaps in how countries designing programs to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+) are proposing to address governance challenges. It can serve as a starting point to help governments, donors, and civil...

  • Blog post

    An Action Plan for Environmental Justice in Latin America and the Caribbean

    UPDATE, 4/19/13: Fourteen Latin American and Caribbean (LAC) countries adopted an ambitious Plan of Action to improve access rights on April 17, 2013. Read WRI's press release for more details about the Plan of Action for the LAC Principle 10 Regional Declaration.

    Without the right laws and safeguards in place, development can come at the expense of the environment and local communities. This point is especially evident in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC). Newspapers across the region regularly document conflicts over land and natural resource use, hydroelectric power development, oil exploitation, expansion of agriculture into virgin forests, and the disruption of indigenous practices.

    Many of these conflicts occur because countries lack strong laws and practices that encourage the public’s access to information and early participation in government decision-making. Without these laws in place, citizens can’t legally obtain information on projects like proposed oil wells or highways—or engage in the decision-making processes about developing and approving these projects. Governments can then make decisions without considering the impact on local citizens. The resulting social, environmental, or health costs often fall disproportionately on the affected communities. (See our video, "Sunita," for more information on the need for access to information laws).

    But the situation in the LAC region could be poised to change, depending on what happens at a meeting this week. Representatives from 13 countries and two observer countries will meet with civil society groups in Guadalajara, Mexico, to finalize a two-year action plan on implementing the LAC Principle 10 Regional Declaration. If attendees come up with a strong plan, several LAC countries will come closer to adopting a plan for improving environmental justice and public participation rights across the region.

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  • Blog post

    Without Land, What Would a Farmer Do?

    Rural farmers depend on land and natural resources for food, income, and their physical well-being. But what happens when national or local governments prevent rural people and communities from farming their land?

    All governments have the authority to restrict the use of private land, usually for public interest purposes, such as environmental management or biodiversity conservation. In these cases, the affected individuals should be compensated for their losses even though the land remains theirs. Problems arise when governments routinely restrict the use of private property for ordinary government business or for meeting short-term political ends. With weak rights to their property and insecure tenure arrangements, local people stop investing in their land and natural resources. In many countries, governments restrict the use of private property without consulting the landholders or providing compensation. With courts too expensive to access, poor people have few opportunities for recourse.

    How do governments balance the benefits to the national public with the rights of local citizens? Can these national benefits be achieved without restricting rural people’s land use? To find out, watch WRI’s new animated video, “A Farmer in Africa.”

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  • Blog post

    5 Lessons for Sustaining Global Forests

    As the old adage suggests, it is important to see the forests for more than just the trees. While an estimated 500 million people depend directly on forests for their livelihoods, the entire world depends on them for food, water, clean air, and vital medicines. Forests also absorb carbon dioxide, making them critical to curbing climate change.

    Despite some encouraging anti-deforestation efforts in places like Brazil, Indonesia, and Africa, globally, forests are under threat, particularly in the tropics. Between 2000 and 2010, nearly 13 million hectares of forests were lost every year. About 30 percent of the global forest cover has been completely cleared, and 20 percent has been degraded.

    This dilemma begs the question: What is the outlook for forests in 2030? Are we missing the opportunity to preserve forests and ensure they continue to deliver the goods and services we need for a growing global population? How can we use forests to build a thriving global green economy?

    Asking these questions is important. Finding answers to the challenges they raise is imperative.

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  • Blog post

    Time to Get Serious About the Future of UNEP

    This post originally appeared in UNEP's magazine, "Our Planet."

    “This gathering represents man’s earnest endeavor to understand his own condition and to prolong his tenancy of this planet.”

    With these stirring words, Indira Gandhi, India’s Prime Minister, galvanized the 1972 UN Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm. A wake-up call to the state of our planet, Stockholm gave birth to the UN Environment Programme, amid high hopes that humanity could together curb alarming trends in pollution and natural resource loss.

    Hopes were high when a 43-year-old Maurice Strong took the reins of the new institution – the first UN body to be located in a developing country. UNEP’s remit was simple: to be the world’s lead institution on the global environment. Its mandate included compiling much-needed environmental data, coordinating international activities, developing international agreements, and providing capacity development and technical assistance, especially to developing countries.

    Forty years on, UNEP has made some vital contributions. It has played a key role in creating dozens of institutions and agreements that have advanced understanding of global challenges and propelled international action. These include such game-changers as the 1987 Montreal Protocol, which led to a 98 percent drop in controlled ozone depleting gases; the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), since 1988 the leading global body on climate science; the 1992 Earth Summit, and its associated global treaties on climate and biodiversity; and the 2005 Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, the first ever survey of the health of the world’s biological resources.

    And yet, as it enters its fifth decade, few can believe that UNEP is equipped for the magnitude of the task ahead.

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  • Blog post

    Civil Society Groups Help Make Electricity Affordable and Sustainable

    Worldwide, one out of every five people lacks access to modern electricity. Affordability, quality of service, and social and environmental impacts pose great challenges in providing people with the power they need for lighting, cooking, and other activities. Good governance involving open and inclusive practices is essential to overcoming these pressing obstacles.

    This is part one of a four-part blog series, “Improving Electricity Governance,” which explores the key components involved in making electricity decision-making more open, inclusive, and fair. The series draws on the experiences of WRI’s Electricity Governance Initiative, which are documented in a new report, “Shining a Light on Electricity Governance.”

    Access to electricity poses major challenges in India. Service varies considerably across the country. In some regions, fewer than 40 percent of people have access to electricity, while half of all rural households lack access to power. These issues will become more challenging as demand for energy is expected to double by 2020. The country will need to figure out how to provide affordable, reliable power in ways that benefit both people and the planet.

    But India has a powerful ally in overcoming these electricity challenges: civil society organizations (CSOs).

    People’s Monitoring Group on Electricity Regulation Steps In

    In the state of Andhra Pradesh, the People’s Monitoring Group on Electricity Regulation (PMGER), a partner with WRI’s Electricity Governance Initiative (EGI), acts as an advocate for affordable, reliable power. The organization is a consortium of NGOs whose constituencies include farmers’ organizations, environmental and development advocacy groups, electricity advocacy groups, workers’ unions, and research organizations. PMGER ensures that Andhra Pradesh’s electricity decisions are fair, effective, and made with citizens’ best interests in mind.

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Lessons from Indonesia: Mobilizing Investment in Geothermal Energy

Developing countries will need about $531 billion of additional investments in clean energy technologies every year in order to limit global temperature rise to 2°C above pre-industrial levels, thus preventing climate change’s worst impacts. To attract investments on the scale required, developing country governments, with support from developed countries, must undertake “readiness” activities that will encourage public and private sector investors to put their money into climate-friendly projects.

WRI’s six-part blog series, Mobilizing Clean Energy Finance, highlights individual developing countries’ experiences in scaling up investments in clean energy and explores the role climate finance plays in addressing investment barriers. The cases draw on WRI’s recent report, Mobilizing Climate Investment.

The development of Indonesia’s geothermal energy sector—and the starts and stops along the way—provides an interesting case study on how to create readiness for low-carbon energy. By addressing barriers such as pricing distortions and resource-exploration risks, the country has begun to create a favorable climate for geothermal investment.

The History of Geothermal Power in Indonesia

Indonesia holds the world’s largest source of geothermal power, with an estimated potential of 27 GW. However, less than 5 percent of this potential has been developed to date. Indonesia began to explore its geothermal resource in the 1970s, with support from a number of developed country governments. The country made some progress in advancing geothermal development by the 1990s. However, development stalled during the Asian financial crisis in 1997-98 and was slow to recover.

In the early 2000s, a number of barriers limited investment in the sector, including a policy and regulatory framework that favored conventional, coal-fired energy over geothermal. Plus, the high cost and risk associated with geothermal exploration deterred potential investors and made it difficult to access financing from banks.

The Indonesian government took a number of steps to try to advance geothermal development and received support from a wide range of international partners, including multilateral development banks and developed country governments. In 2003, it passed a law to promote private sector investment in geothermal, establishing a target of 6,000MW installed capacity by 2020.

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4 Lessons in Renewable Energy Planning: The Philippine Experience

Rabayah Akhter, an intern with WRI's Electricity Governance Initiative, also contributed to this post.

When it comes to renewable energy, the Philippines is one of the world’s more ambitious countries. The country set out to triple its share of renewable energy by 2030 based on 2010 levels. The Philippines has one of Asia’s highest electricity rates, in part due to high costs of importing fossil fuels. Enhancing the country’s energy security and keeping power costs down have been the main drivers for setting renewable energy goals.

While the Philippines has demonstrated commitment to renewable energy, the process of achieving its goals has proven to be challenging. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in collaboration with WRI released a new report today, Meeting Renewable Energy Targets: Global Lessons From The Road To Implementation. The report documents the challenges and solutions to scaling up renewable energy in the Philippines and six other countries - China, India, Germany, Morocco, South Africa and Spain.

Successes and Delays

The Philippines’ experience--the strides and the delays--exemplifies the importance of good governance, including transparency, accountability, and participation. Without it, policies are unlikely to receive public acceptance or support. While it’s important to choose which policies to initiate in the energy sector, equally as important is fortifying the regulatory and institutional structures that back them.

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How Civil Society Groups Improved Electricity in Thailand

Worldwide, one out of every five people lacks access to modern electricity. Affordability, quality of service, and social and environmental impacts pose great challenges in providing people with the power they need for lighting, cooking, and other activities. Good governance involving open and inclusive practices is essential to overcoming these pressing obstacles.

This is part three of a four-part blog series, “Improving Electricity Governance,” which explores the key components involved in effective electricity governance. The series draws on the experiences of WRI’s Electricity Governance Initiative, documented in a new report, “Shining a Light on Electricity Governance.” Read more posts in this series.

Until recently, the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT) held a monopoly on Thailand’s power generation and transmission since the 1970s. While EGAT provided a relatively stable supply of electricity to consumers, it was unregulated, leading to inefficiencies in the sector, such as wrongly estimated fuel supply. Consumers experienced high prices, while new power projects moved forward with little public consultation, sparking social conflict and concerns over environmental impacts.

The situation worsened in 2003, when Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra set forth a plan to restructure Thailand’s electricity sector and privatize EGAT. Rather than improving Thailand’s electricity sector in the public interest, the plan for privatization was designed to increase capital for powerful stakeholders and upper management employees. It called to maintain EGAT’s unregulated monopoly in order to maximize profits, even at the expense of public needs and environmental vulnerabilities.

Thailand’s electricity sector seemed poised to worsen--until civil society groups stepped in.

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Ending the "Resource Curse": Canada Commits to Make Mining More Transparent

Canada’s Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, took a significant step toward promoting transparency and reducing global poverty. He announced yesterday that Canada will implement mandatory reporting requirements for Canadian extractive companies operating both in-country and abroad.

This mandate will require Canadian extractive companies to publicly disclose the payments they make to foreign governments in exchange for permission to operate on their soil. This development will help promote transparency in the mining sector and, if implemented effectively, could help combat the “resource curse.”

Fighting the Resource Curse through Access to Information

Tackling the “resource curse” is a challenge of global proportions. The term applies to situations where, despite a country’s mineral or oil wealth, poverty is exacerbated in part by weak or corrupt institutions, government mismanagement of revenues, and a failure to re-invest into projects that benefit the public—such as infrastructure, education, and healthcare. Often, citizens of resource curse countries aren’t able to hold their governments accountable for this abuse of power because they lack information about their country’s revenues and expenditures (see Box).

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Making the Right Choice on Indonesia’s Forest Moratorium

This piece originally appeared in the Jakarta Post. It was co-written with Dino Patti Djalal, Ambassador of the Republic of Indonesia and WRI Board member.

Ending months of uncertainty, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono of Indonesia made a courageous decision last week to extend the country’s forest moratorium. The new Presidential Instruction adds another two years of protection for over 43 million hectares of primary forests and peat land — an area the size of Japan.

This was a bold decision by a leader known for his commitment to sustainability. Extending the moratorium is a victory for the Indonesian people, business, and the planet.

The moratorium will directly benefit more than 80 million Indonesians who rely on forests for their livelihood. Many of these people are extremely poor and have struggled to gain recognition for their land rights. Extending the moratorium provides an opportunity to address these crucial issues.

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Improving Freedom of Information in Uganda

Harriet Bibangambah, a Research Officer at Greenwatch Uganda, also contributed to this post.

Uganda is one of only 10 African countries with a national access to information (ATI) law. These types of laws are essential to human rights, providing citizens with legal access to the government-held information that directly impacts them—information on issues like mining permits, logging concessions, air quality data, and more. But as researchers are learning, ATI laws on the books do not necessarily guarantee freedom of information.

Investigating Access to Information in Uganda

The Access to Information in Africa project—a joint initiative with WRI and the Ghana Center for Democratic Development, Greenwatch Uganda, and Open Democracy Advice Centre of South Africa—evaluates transparency models and environmental accountability in Africa. The project’s research includes conducting a series of citizen requests for information in Ghana, Uganda, and South Africa.

Uganda passed its Access to Information Act in 2005, releasing an implementation plan and ATI regulations in 2011. The regulations establish procedures for citizens to request government-held information and for the government to respond to citizen requests. WRI and Greenwatch, a Ugandan environmental law and advocacy organization set out in August 2011 to investigate how the law works.

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4 Issues to Watch: Recommendations for the Post-2015 Development Agenda

UPDATE 5/30/13: The High Level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Agenda released its final report on May 30th. Read the full report on the Panel's website.

Following an extensive global consultation process, the High Level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Agenda will present its final report to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon this week. Led by the heads of state of Indonesia, Liberia, and the United Kingdom, the panel is charged with producing a bold yet practical vision for global development beyond 2015, when the current Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are set to expire. While this is just the first round of what is sure to be a multi-year process, there has been no shortage of discussion about the Panel’s report and what it should say.

Here are four key issues that we will be looking at on May 31st:

1) Will sustainability be on the margins or at the center of the post-2015 agenda?

The MDGs focused primarily on poverty reduction and the social dimensions of human development, with one stand-alone (and largely ineffective) goal on environmental sustainability. There is growing recognition now that the twin challenges of environmental degradation and inequality are among the root causes of poverty, and thus are inextricably linked. The Panel has already acknowledged this in earlier pronouncements, but how and to what extent it takes a more integrated approach to environmental sustainability and equity issues will be a key test of the new poverty agenda. Will it propose another strengthened, stand-alone goal(s) on environmental sustainability, embed sustainability across a number of other goals, or put forth some combination of the two? How will environmental sustainability and poverty reduction be linked in the post-2015 agenda?

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Indonesia Extends its Forest Moratorium: What Comes Next?

Indonesia’s President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono made a bold and courageous decision this week to extend the country’s forest moratorium. With this decision, which aims to prevent new clearing of primary forests and peat lands for another two years, the government could help protect valuable forests and drive sustainable development.

Enacted two years ago, Indonesia’s forest moratorium has already made some progress in improving forest management. However, much more can be done. The extension offers Indonesia a tremendous opportunity: a chance to reduce emissions, curb deforestation, and greatly strengthen forest governance in a country that holds some of the world’s most diverse ecosystems.

Boosting Achievements from Indonesia’s Forest Moratorium

Indonesia ranks as one of world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitters, largely due to the clearing of forest and peat lands. The forest moratorium aims to address this problem by prohibiting the award of new licenses to clear or convert primary natural forests and peat lands to agriculture or other uses. This will encompass an area of over 43 million hectares of land. Forest users with existing licenses are still allowed to operate in these regions, and there are several exceptions to the rule.

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New Jakarta Declaration Aims to Strengthen Rights to Environmental Information in Asia

Increased industrialization in Asia has created countless hurdles for communities to protect themselves from pollution. Important government information—such as the amount of pollutants being discharged by nearby factories or results from local air and water quality monitoring—still isn’t readily accessible in user-friendly formats. This practice often leaves the public entirely out of decision-making processes on issues like regulating pollution or expanding industrial factories. In many cases, the public lack the information they need to understand and shield themselves from harmful environmental, social, and health impacts.

This state of affairs recently prompted a group of government officials, NGOs, local community representatives, and academics to demand government action to change the status quo. Last week, representatives from China, Indonesia, Japan, Mongolia, the Philippines, and Thailand released the Jakarta Declaration for Strengthening the Right to Environmental Information for People and the Environment. The Declaration urges governments to improve access to information on air and water quality pollution in Asia—and offers a detailed road map on how to do so.

The Declaration stemmed from a meeting organized by WRI’s the Access Initiative and the Indonesian Center for Environmental Law, held last week in Jakarta. Representatives will now bring the list of findings and recommendations to government officials in their home countries and ask for commitments on increasing transparency.

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How Are China’s Overseas Investments Affecting the Environment?

Chinese overseas investments are rapidly increasing. As of 2011, China’s outward foreign direct investments (OFDI) spread across 132 countries and regions and topped USD 60 billion annually, ranking ninth globally according to U.N. Conference on Trade and Development statistics. A significant amount of this increasing OFDI goes to the energy and resources sectors—much of it in Asia, Africa, and Latin America.

But there are two sides to China’s OFDI coin. On the one side, these investments can benefit China and recipient countries, generating revenue and improving quality of life. However, like any country’s overseas investments, without the right policies and safeguards in place, these investments can fund projects that harm the environment and local communities.

WRI‘s new issue brief surveys the progress and challenges China faces in regulating the environmental and social impacts of its overseas investments. I sat down with WRI senior associate and China expert, Hu Tao, to talk about China’s overseas investment landscape. Before joining WRI, Tao worked as a senior environmental economist with China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP). Here’s what he had to say:

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