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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.

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.

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.”

 

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.

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.

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.”

The Challenge of Strengthening Environmental Entrepreneurship

This is the first installment of a five-part blog series on scaling environmental entrepreneurship in emerging markets. In forthcoming posts, experts in the field will 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.

One of the greatest challenges of our time is achieving economic development without harming the planet and local communities. Entrepreneurship can play a critical role in solving this dilemma.

In fact, entrepreneurs and the small and medium enterprises (SMEs) they create contribute up to 78 percent of employment and more than 29 percent of GDP in developing economies. These types of businesses play an invaluable role in creating jobs, spurring community growth, and alleviating poverty. Some of these SMEs create even more value by generating clear, measurable environmental benefits.

But the problem is that these entrepreneurs face a host of challenges when it comes to growing their businesses and succeeding. As Global Entrepreneurship Week is celebrated across the world this week, it’s a good time to examine the importance of environmentally focused entrepreneurs as well as the difficulties they face.

The False Choice Between Palm Oil and Indonesian Forests

This post originally appeared in the Jakarta Post.

Palm oil is on a lot of people’s minds. In Indonesia, the industry is booming, with $19.7 billion of crude palm oil exports in 2011. But expanding oil palm plantations have taken their toll on remaining forests and other natural habitats in tropical regions and led to conflict over land with local people.

The world’s top scientists are also raising concerns. According to a recent study in Nature Climate Change, from 1990 to 2010, 90 percent of lands converted to oil palm plantations in Kalimantan were forested.

There need not, however, be a trade-off between palm oil, forests, and communities. It is possible to grow more crops--including oil palm--while keeping forests and cutting rural poverty.

4 Key Factors for the Sustainable Development Goals

Earlier this week, I participated in a United Nations Special Event Panel on “Conceptualizing a Set of Sustainable Development Goals,” which took place before an audience of senior policymakers and UN ambassadors and delegates.

At the Rio+20 summit in June, world leaders agreed to create global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a means to embed sustainability into economic development. This week’s event sought to start a discussion about what these goals might look like and how they could build on the existing Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which expire in 2015.

Here are four important messages that I presented about how to make the SDGs effective and why they are critical to our planet’s future:

Reflections on the 8th International Congress on Sustainable Transport

Who said urban transport was boring? Certainly not the 1,100 people who recently gathered in Mexico City at the 8th annual International Congress on Sustainable Transport. The event, organized by colleagues at EMBARQ Mexico, brought together leading government officials, practitioners, academics, and other professionals to explore lessons and find new solutions to global transportation challenges. I was amazed by the energy and excitement that pervaded the event and by the ideas and innovations emerging in this field.

I had the pleasure of addressing the plenary on the bigger context for urban transport in today’s global society. With nearly a billion people being added to the world’s cities in the coming decades, how transport systems are designed will be pivotal for livelihoods, society, and the global environment. Transportation goes to the heart of how we live and what kind of future we want.

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