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sustainable development

Why 2013 Could Be a Game-Changer on Climate

This piece originally appeared on CNN.com.

As leaders gather for the World Economic Forum in Davos today, signs of economic hope are upon us. The global economy is on the mend. Worldwide, the middle class is expanding by an estimated 100 million per year. And the quality of life for millions in Asia and Africa is growing at an unprecedented pace.

Threats abound, of course. One neglected risk--climate change--appears to at last be rising to the top of agendas in business and political circles. When the World Economic Forum recently asked 1,000 leaders from industry, government, academia, and civil society to rank risks over the coming decade for the Global Risks 2013 report, climate change was in the top three. And in his second inaugural address, President Obama identified climate change as a major priority for his Administration.

For good reason: last year was the hottest year on record for the continental United States, and records for extreme weather events were broken around the world. We are seeing more droughts, wildfires, and rising seas. The current U.S. drought will wipe out approximately 1 percent of the U.S. GDP and is on course to be the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history. Damage from Hurricane Sandy will cost another 0.5 percent of GDP. And a recent study found that the cost of climate change is about $1.2 trillion per year globally, or 1.6 percent of global GDP.

Shifting to low-carbon energy sources is critical to mitigating climate change's impacts. Today's global energy mix is changing rapidly, but is it heading in the right direction?

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4 Big Ideas to Revolutionize Transportation

Two leaders on urban development recently came together on the same stage: Dr. Jim Yong Kim and Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Kim, president of the World Bank, and Bloomberg, mayor of New York City, headlined a panel at the Transforming Transportation conference, an event co-organized by the World Bank and WRI’s EMBARQ Center for Sustainable Transport. Through a discussion moderated by Zanny Minton Beddoes, an editor at The Economist, and closed by WRI’s president, Dr. Andrew Steer, Kim and Bloomberg took on the meaty topic of how to shape the future of urban transport.

It was an interesting pairing of perspectives. Bloomberg is a leader in business, government, and philanthropy who has had an enormous impact on New York City. Kim brings a public health and international perspective, and now, at the World Bank, focuses on advancing the goal of reducing poverty and boosting “shared prosperity” across the globe. Despite their different backgrounds, the two shared the idea that sustainable transport goes beyond moving vehicles and infrastructure. At its core, transportation is about improving the health and quality of life for people.

A Critical Moment for Sustainable Transport

As both Kim and Bloomberg noted, the world is moving unsustainably—literally. About 1.3 million people die every year as a result of traffic accidents. In most cities, motorized transport is responsible for 80 percent of local air pollution. And with 70 percent of the world’s population expected to live in cities by 2050, these urban problems are likely to worsen.

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3 Big Opportunities to Transform Transportation

The need for action on sustainable transport has never been more apparent than it is today. The world’s population is expected to reach a whopping 9.8 billion people by 2050, with about 70 percent of these people residing in cities. Meanwhile, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are on the rise. Transportation contributes 13 percent of global emissions, spurring climate change and creating dangerous air pollution.

Sustainable transport—like public transport systems, bicycling lanes, and walking—has the capacity to save lives, reduce energy use and GHG emissions, facilitate access to goods and services that support sustainable development, and enhance the overall quality of life in cities. While the need for sustainable transport has long been accepted in some parts of the world, it is now gaining momentum globally. Cities, which are so important to the global economy, play a key role.

A Critical Moment for Sustainable Transportation

Multi-lateral development banks (MDBs) signaled a paradigm shift when they committed $175 billion for sustainable transport over 10 years at the Rio+20 summit this past June. While the funding comes from resources already allocated for development, this commitment represents the first time that MDBs have earmarked dollars of this magnitude for sustainable transport. This financial commitment can help leverage the impact of investments in transport infrastructure, which already account for more than $1 trillion a year globally. It can also support work at the national level, as well as cities’ historic leadership on transportation.

We are now presented with a chance to truly embrace sustainable transport at the local, national, and international levels. It’s imperative that we capitalize on the opportunity presented by this unprecedented alignment of wills.

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5 Reasons India Needs a Green Power Purchasing Group

With more than 400 million of its 1.2 billion citizens without access to electricity, India needs extensive energy development. A new initiative aims to ensure that a significant portion of this new power comes in the form of renewable energy.

The Green Power Market Development Group

Today, WRI and the Confederation of Indian Industries (CII) launched the Green Power Market Development Group (GPMDG) in Bangalore, India. The group will help boost the country’s use of renewable energy like wind and solar power.

The public-private partnership brings together industry, government, and NGOs to build critical support for renewable energy markets in India. For starters, the group will connect potential industrial and commercial renewable energy purchasers with suppliers. A dozen major companies belonging to a variety of sectors—like Infosys, ACC, Cognizant, IBM, WIPRO, and others—have already joined the initiative and have committed to explore options for increasing their use of renewable energy.

The group also aims to make India’s clean energy development more mainstream. Green power buyers and generators in India currently face policy and regulatory barriers—such as high transmission costs and extensive approval processes. Through the GPMDG, the private sector will be able to work constructively with government agencies to instigate the types of renewable energy policies that will spur greater clean energy development.

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Farewell, 2012. You Taught Us Much.

This year has been one of those worst-of-years and best-of-years. In its failures, there are signs of hope.

An unprecedented stream of extreme weather events worldwide tragically reminded us that we’re losing the fight against climate change. For the first time since 1988, climate change was totally ignored in the U.S. presidential campaign, even though election month, November, was the 333rd consecutive month with a global temperature higher than the long-term average. A WRI report identified 1,200 coal-fired power plants currently proposed for construction worldwide. The Arctic sea ice reached its lowest-ever area in September, down nearly 20 percent from its previous low in 2007. And disappointing international negotiations in June and December warned us not to rely too much on multilateral government-to-government solutions to global problems.

But 2012 was also a year of potential turning points. A number of new “plurilateral” approaches to problem-solving came to the fore, offering genuine hope. A wave of emerging countries, led by China, embraced market-based green growth strategies. Costs for renewable energy continued their downward path, and are now competitive in a growing number of contexts. Bloomberg New Energy Finance reports that global investment in renewable energy was probably around $250 billion in 2012, down by perhaps 10 percent over the previous year, but not bad given the eliminations of many subsidy programs, economic austerity in the West, and the sharp shale-induced declines in natural gas prices. And the tragedy of Hurricane Sandy, coupled with the ongoing drought covering more than half of the United States (which will turn out to be among the costliest natural disasters in U.S. history) may have opened the door to a change of psychology, in turn potentially enabling the Obama Administration to exhibit the international leadership the world so urgently needs, as many of us have advocated.

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Empowering Environmental Entrepreneurs in Emerging Economies

This is the fifth installment of a five-part blog series on scaling environmental entrepreneurship in emerging markets. In this series, experts in the field provide insights on how business accelerators, technical assistance providers, investors, and the philanthropic community can work with developing market entrepreneurs to increase their economic, environmental, and social impacts. Read the rest of the series.

Here at WRI, our mantra is “making big ideas happen.” But these “big ideas” don’t need to come exclusively from “big” players like corporations and development banks. In 1999, we set out to prove a new concept—that entrepreneurs and the small and medium-sized businesses they create could make a profound impact on the health of the planet.

Thirteen years on, the proof of our concept is demonstrated daily around the world. As engines of economic growth and laboratories for environmental and social innovation, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are helping to build modern economies that improve people’s lives while conserving natural resources.

This is especially true in developing countries, where such businesses can account for as many as four in five jobs and almost one-third of GDP. Which is why, back in 1999, WRI chose Latin America and Asia as the focus of its pioneering New Ventures project to nurture environmental entrepreneurs.

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A Closer Look at the Evolution of Brazil’s Overseas Investments

From 2001 to 2011, Brazil’s per capita GDP more than tripled. At the heart of this domestic economic boom is the Brazilian Development Bank (BNDES).

BNDES is Brazil’s key financial institution for domestic long-term financing, and it’s one of the main financial engines behind Brazil’s take-off as a leading Latin American economy. Its lending and equity investments are becoming increasingly important internationally.

But what’s driving all of this growth? And what standards exist to ensure that Brazil’s overseas investments aren’t coming at the expense of the environment and human well-being? WRI seeks to address these questions and more in its new slide deck, “Emerging Actors in Development Finance: A closer look at Brazil’s Growth, Influence and the Role of BNDES.”

 

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Playing Together: Growing Environmental Entrepreneurship through Greater Collaboration

This is the fourth installment of a five-part blog series on scaling environmental entrepreneurship in emerging markets. In this series, experts in the field provide insights on how business accelerators, technical assistance providers, investors, and the philanthropic community can work with developing market entrepreneurs to increase their economic, environmental, and social impacts. Read the rest of the series.

What do development banks, impact investment funds, foundations, and business accelerators have in common? Each of these organizations plays a significant role in supporting entrepreneurs in developing countries, including those who are trying to solve environmental problems through commercial enterprises.

But in most cases, these groups have traditionally occupied distinct niches in the support they provide. Development banks specialize in providing businesses with grants, loans, and technical assistance; impact investors provide debt or equity at market or near-market rates; foundations channel their philanthropy to create change; and business accelerators help entrepreneurs hone their business skills and attract investors.

What would happen if these groups worked more closely together? As we discussed at a recent WRI event, if organizations were able to combine their respective strengths, entrepreneurs could capture greater benefits than if groups work alone.

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Unlocking Climate Finance: How Can Multilateral Agencies Better Leverage the Private Sector?

The Doha negotiations that just concluded earlier this month have again drawn attention to the urgent need for climate adaptation and emissions reductions. Government representatives, civil society stakeholders, development aid organizations, and corporates agree that the world must make big strides—soon—if we are to have any hope of keeping global average temperatures to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

One problem, though, is how to generate enough finance to fund these activities. A new WRI working paper aims to address this challenge by examining the role multilateral agencies can play in mobilizing private sector finance for climate change adaptation and mitigation.

Leveraging the Private Sector to Bridge the Climate Finance Gap

Developing countries—those most vulnerable to climate change’s impacts—will need $300 billion annually by 2020 and $500 billion annually by 2050 for mitigation activities alone. The newly established Green Climate Fund (GCF), meant to channel $100 billion annually into climate-relevant investments starting in 2020, is a significant first step, but does not fill the gap of what’s needed.

The public sector cannot tackle this challenge alone, and indeed, the GCF already envisions funding from a mix of public and private sources. The key, then, is to mobilize the private sector to create new investment opportunities and new markets.

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A Closer Look at China’s Overseas Investment

When it comes to overseas development finance, China is definitely a country to watch. Due to the country’s unprecedented economic growth, China’s overseas investments have increased exponentially in recent years. Between 2009 and 2010, two Chinese state-owned banks lent more money to other developing nations than the World Bank did. In fact, between 2002 and 2011, China’s outward foreign direct investment (OFDI) stock grew from $29 billion to more than $424 billion.

But what factors are driving all of this growth? What areas of the world are on the receiving end of China’s OFDI flows? And what sorts of social and environmental standards are in place for banks’ and enterprises’ investments? WRI seeks to answer these questions and provide additional background information in its recently updated slide deck, “Emerging Actors in Development Finance: A Closer Look at China’s Overseas Investment.”

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