Change on the Ground, Change in the Air
WRI’s Programmatic Achievements
Today, WRI has teams in more than a dozen countries and works with partners in more than 50 countries. We work at the local, national and global scale. Our broad scope and geographic range enable us to simultaneously shape the global agenda and implement action on the ground, sharing and applying lessons as we go. In this, WRI is rare.
The following highlights are a snapshot of WRI’s programmatic achievements from 2022. They showcase the range of roles WRI is capable of inhabiting. Through it all, WRI uses research and data to advance evidence-based decision-making and works in partnership with others.
A Broker at High Stakes UN Climate Conference
At the United Nations Climate conference (COP27), nations agreed to establish new funding arrangements for developing countries that are particularly vulnerable to climate impacts. Distinct from previously existing country commitments to finance climate adaptation and mitigation efforts, the Loss and Damage Fund will support some of the most vulnerable communities on earth whose lives and livelihoods are upended by climate impacts.
Details of exactly how and when the Loss and Damage Fund will be used to help countries recover and rebuild from climate impacts — be they extreme weather or slow-onset events — are yet to be agreed upon. However, after 30 years of negotiations, these developments represent overdue recognition of a deep injustice: The people most vulnerable to climate impacts are least responsible for the climate crisis.
Throughout 2022, WRI worked to educate climate negotiators and reporters about the concept of loss and damage and why — practically and politically — it could no longer be ignored. WRI mapped financial needs and flows, provided a widely read explainer, and held numerous convenings and media briefings on the issue. Ani also became the first guest essayist to write on this topic in the New York Times, authoring an op-ed calling for a new Loss and Damage Fund.
The substance of these efforts was informed by ACT2025, a global consortium of thought- leaders from the Global South committed to elevating the voices of climate-vulnerable countries within UN climate negotiations. Together, the ACT2025 partners represent six regional perspectives from around the world, with WRI providing a global vantage.
COP27 took place at a moment when trust between countries was strained and faith in the multilateral system frayed. While the final COP27 outcome was lacking in some key ways, especially on mitigation ambition, the creation of the Loss and Damage Fund did deliver an essential and timely boost in solidarity among countries. Now all eyes are on COP28 where nations will operationalize their loss and damage commitments. As to be expected, WRI is already actively engaged in this critical task.
A Catalyst for Restoration Finance in Africa
In recent years, countries made ambitious commitments to restore huge swathes of land in furtherance of their climate and development goals. In 2022, countries reached a new level of ambition in agreeing to protect and restore 30 percent of the world’s land and ocean by 2030. This is both a profound moment and a practical puzzle.
WRI played a pivotal role in supporting African countries’ 2015 commitment to restore 100 million hectares by 2030. Known as the AFR100 initiative, the African Union Development Agency and WRI were confident that securing such a large-scale commitment would spark real action on the ground. To support this action, WRI also launched a program to help local entrepreneurs working to restore degraded forests and farmland. Known as the Land Accelerator, this initiative has supported more than 300 entrepreneurs in 51 countries to date.
But a piece of the puzzle was still missing — project finance for restoration. It’s true that there is public and private financing earmarked for land restoration. But these large financial commitments rarely make it to the local communities who collectively own or steward more than 65% of Africa’s land.
In 2021, WRI and partners launched TerraFund for AFR100, a long-term financing mechanism that provides grants and low-interest loans to locally led restoration projects and enterprises. In just two weeks, the team received more than 3,200 applications from 31 countries. So far, TerraFund for AFR100 has delivered $15 million to local restoration champions who collectively are working to restore 20,000 hectares of land and plant more than 14 million new trees.
These actions are guided by the knowledge that every $1 invested in restoration creates up to $30 in economic benefits, including new jobs and increased revenues for farmers. Unlocking this potential and ensuring the long-term viability of restoration projects is only possible if we close the gap between financiers and local communities. WRI is working to bridge that gap.
A Catalyst for Electric Mobility in the United States and India
2022 was a good year for electric mobility in the United States. The federal Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) and several new state provisions included significant legislative wins for electric vehicles and, in particular, electric school buses.
Electrifying school buses carries many health benefits for children and communities across the United States, particularly communities of color who have been historically marginalized. It can also spur a tipping point for vehicle electrification across the country. That’s why, thanks to a 5-year $30 million grant from the Bezos Earth Fund, WRI’s Electric School Bus Initiative is working towards equitably electrifying the full U.S. fleet by 2030.
"WRI is working to create a world where people and nature can thrive together. I’m proud that WRI recognizes that frontline communities are a part of the solution and brings together businesses and governments to build a more inclusive, equitable, and sustainable world. I look forward to seeing the possibilities of what we can create when we work together."
Member, WRI Global Board of Directors
In 2022, our work included meeting with White House staff and Congressional office staff to offer insights at critical stages in the legislative process towards passage of the historic IRA legislation. WRI also launched a major outreach effort to complement the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s awarding of nearly $1 billion in federal funding to school districts for electric school buses. These efforts built upon our work supporting passage of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act in 2021.
In 2022, WRI also supported state efforts to electrify school buses, including passage of the first statewide school bus electrification mandate. Representing 10 percent of all U.S. school buses, New York state set requirements for all new school bus sales to be electric by 2027 and full fleet electrification by 2035. Similar efforts are now under way in three other states.
WRI has taken a similarly strategic approach to scaling electric buses in India, where road transport is one of the fastest-growing sources of emissions. In 2022, WRI supported Convergence Energy Services Limited in fulfilling a tender for 5,000 electric buses in five Indian cities.
Through economies of scale, and other favorable factors, the “Grand Challenge” put electric bus costs on par (or close) with operational costs of diesel buses. With plans afoot to scale and replicate, WRI is at the heart of the shift to electric mobility in both India and the United States.
A Thought-Leader for Systems Change
It is increasingly clear that tackling the world’s greatest challenges requires us to better understand systems, not just sectors. We must track our progress and we must identify enablers and barriers to change. That’s where Systems Change Lab (SCL) comes in. A joint effort by WRI and the Bezos Earth Fund, SCL collects and analyzes data that can show us how close (or far) we are from transforming key systems and why.
SCL has identified more than 70 critical shifts that must occur across major systems. These shifts include: phasing out the internal combustion engine; extending financial services to underserved communities; adopting holistic indicators of economic well-being; developing solutions for hard-to-abate industries like steel, cement and plastics; and restoring deforested and degraded land. Done right, these shifts can work together to disrupt the status quo and create systemwide change.
2022 marked the launch of SCL’s open-source data platform, which showcases research, analysis, interactive dashboards and data visualizations. This virtual situation room draws on the information and methodology underpinning SCL’s annual State of Climate Action report, which found that none of the 40 indicators assessed are on track to achieve 2030 targets.
Using granular data to shift broader thinking is what WRI does extremely well, be it helping to link the environment and development agendas or shifting the narrative around the economics of climate action. Thinking about systems, rather than sectors, is another shift that we expect to take root in years to come.
The world cannot meet global goals for climate and nature without a healthy Amazon. By strengthening our presence in Latin America and focusing on regional solutions that connect the dots between global goals and local action, WRI will contribute to the 1.5C Paris target and will advance a more sustainable bioeconomy for the Amazon and its people.
Member, WRI Global Board of Directors
A Scaler of Success for African Urban Water Resilience
By 2050, water demand in Africa is projected to triple. At the same time, African countries are suffering increasing water stresses and shocks due to the climate crisis. Consequently, most urban areas in Africa have escalating water-related challenges.
Addressing African cities’ unmet need for sanitation, growing water demand, and increasing water stress will take a lot of coordination between different sectors and jurisdictions. A significant increase in finance is also essential: Of the $100 billion in private investment allocated to water infrastructure since 1990, sub-Saharan Africa has received less than 1%.
WRI’s Urban Water Resilience Initiative has already helped six African cities identify more than 90 actions that will build resilience, provide access to high-quality water and protect residents from water hazards. Last year, WRI began scaling commitments secured through the Urban Water Resilience Initiative through two continent-wide partnerships.
In 2022, WRI and partners launched the African Cities Water Adaptation Fund (ACWA Fund) with the goal of channeling $5 billion towards urban water resilience solutions in 100 African cities by 2032. In addition to the Fund, WRI coalesced 24 institutions to launch the AWCA Platform — a centralized coalition providing the capacity building and technical assistance needed to ensure financing is directed towards smart and sustainable projects.
Getting this right will boost resilience for millions of urban dwellers across the African continent. Together, the AWCA Fund and Platform aims to improve access to sustainable water services for 29 million people, save 137 million cubic meters of water and create 64,000 jobs.
A Facilitator of Nature Positive Urban Planning
The relationship between cities and forests is complex and vital. Be it an urban park down the street helping to lower temperatures or a tropical forest thousands of miles away sequestering carbon, healthy forests sustain healthy cities.
Yet Global Forest Watch data show that the world’s intact forest landscapes decreased by 12% between 2000 and 2020 and the rate of loss is increasing. With more than half the global population living in cities today, and expected to rise to two-thirds by 2050, urban planning has a huge impact on forests.
Five years ago, WRI and partners launched Cities4Forests to catalyze support for integrating forests and nature into city plans, programs, and investments. Today, more than 90 cities from all regions have joined Cities4Forests to take advantage of technical assistance and economic analysis to strengthen urban planning and unlock finance for nature-based solutions and community resilience. In 2022, Cities4Forests provided technical support to roughly 50 cities in more than a dozen countries resulting in new or enhanced policies and regulations that protect trees, forests, and nature near and far.
With help from our in-country teams, Salvador, Brazil, established the city’s first (highly replicable) public rain garden to alleviate flooding. Jayapura, Indonesia, integrated Indigenous and local community knowledge into the city’s spatial plan to protect traditional areas. A community-led urban greening movement in Kochi, India, planted hundreds of trees across 10 urban sites, creating a template for scalable urban restoration. And Brazzaville, Republic of the Congo, developed the city’s first Urban Forest Strategy to protect and expand the urban canopy while providing equitable green space access.
The world’s only global platform that connects cities with forests within their boundaries, as well as forests nearby and far away, Cities4Forests is a great example of WRI’s ability to support local action that moves the world closer to our global goals.