World Resource Institute

WRI Annual Report 2018-19: Facing the World's Biggest Challenges

Facing The World's Biggest Challenges

Our work is guided by a five-year Strategic Plan that focuses on seven Global Challenges—Food, Forests, Water, Energy, Cities, Climate and the Ocean.

Because responses to these challenges are intertwined—actions to address one often have impacts on others—we seek solutions that maximize synergies and minimize trade-offs.

For example, our landmark research on how to feed a growing global population, released in 2018, considers the impacts on forests, water use, energy production and greenhouse gas emissions. To ensure the effectiveness of the solutions we design and promote, Global Challenge Programs draw upon the expertise of four cross-cutting Centers of Excellence: Business, Economics, Finance and Governance.

To make the most of this comprehensive approach, in 2018 we revamped how we plan, monitor, evaluate and report on our progress. These new systems are yielding fresh insights that are helping to increase our effectiveness. We hope they also offer the readers of this report greater understanding of our work.


Released in December 2018, the synthesis of the World Resources Report, Creating a Sustainable Food Future: A Menu of Solutions to Feed Nearly 10 Billion People by 2050, offers a roadmap to sustainably feed the planet while reducing greenhouse gas emissions and promoting economic development. WRI is putting our research into action with partnerships to reduce global food loss and waste by half and to catalyze shifts toward sustainable and healthy diets.


  • Through the WRI-convened Champions 12.3 network, nearly two-thirds of the world’s 50 highest- revenue food companies set food loss and waste reduction targets aligned with Target 12.3 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which aims to halve per capita food waste by 2030.

  • In Indonesia, the Food Loss & Waste Coalition launched the first public-private partnership in the developing world focusing on this topic, with support from P4G, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development and WRI.

  • WRI’s Better Buying Lab helped advance adoption of a burger that substitutes mushrooms for 30 percent of the beef. This burger is landing on menus everywhere, from Hilton Hotels to thousands of businesses supplied by Sodexo.

  • Food companies and organizations serving more than 60 million meals annually joined our new Cool Food Pledge, which aims to cut food-related greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent by 2030.

What to Watch

In 2019 we will launch the full World Resources Report: Creating a Sustainable Food Future, published with the World Bank and other partners, which will lay out the menu of solutions to feed the planet, advance economic development and human wellbeing, and help meet the Paris Agreement climate goals.


WRI seeks to help the world safeguard and maintain forests while restoring a significant portion of forests that have been lost or degraded, through the Global Forest Watch digital mapping platform, the Global Restoration Initiative to bring degraded land back to productive health and the Forest Legality Initiative that combats illegal logging.


  • Our release of the latest tree cover loss data compiled by our researchers and others revealed the main drivers of this phenomenon in specific places (supported by a paper in Science). We helped over a dozen countries create online forest monitoring systems. With partners, we empowered forest defenders with tools like the GLAD (Global Land Analysis and Discovery) deforestation alerts and the new Forest Watcher mobile app.

  • We helped deploy more than $350 million in private investment into restoration projects across Latin America and launched WRI’s first restoration crowdfunding pilot project, in Rwanda.

  • WRI is leading U.S. Forest Service efforts to develop a universal DNA test that shows what species of tree is in a specific product and where it was grown to prevent trade in illegally harvested wood. We also launched the Open Timber Portal on producers’ legal and regulatory compliance in the Republic of Congo and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

  • We helped the Democratic Republic of the Congo to develop regulations and procedures for community forest management.

What to Watch

In 2019 we will launch Global Forest Watch Pro, an online tool to help companies understand and reduce deforestation from palm oil, soy and cocoa in their supply chains. We will also publish our first annual Global Forest Update to provide an interactive snapshot of forests worldwide, with information on climate and biodiversity.


WRI helps decision-makers working for national governments, cities and the private sector understand and address growing water risks. The Aqueduct platform, visited by more than 5,000 users each year, many working at major companies, provides the world’s best open source information on water risk. Our Natural Infrastructure Initiative encourages investment in watersheds and other natural systems.


  • Our Parched Power report highlighted the high cost and future risk of water shortages for thermoelectric power production in India. We will apply similar analysis in other countries to show the risk of water-intensive coal-fired power. WRI China published an analysis in Nature Energy showing how water-efficient cooling techniques reduced water stress in China.

  • Working with partners including Blue Forest Conservation, we helped launch the first Forest Resilience Bond in Tahoe National Forest, California, raising $4.6 million of private investment to reduce fire risk through restoration.

  • The Natural Infrastructure Initiative published new research showing how three of Brazil’s biggest cities could achieve high returns on investments to improve nearby watersheds.

  • Together with WRI’s Forests and Cities teams, we launched the Cities4Forests initiative, helping more than 50 cities conserve, manage and restore forests and watersheds they depend upon.

What to Watch

We will release an updated and improved version of Aqueduct, including a new tool, Aqueduct Food. We will develop an Aqueduct-based water supply-development gap assessment with the government of Ethiopia for its 12 major river watersheds.


To make the transition to universal access to clean, affordable, reliable energy, WRI works with institutions around the world to deploy renewable energy, scale energy efficiency and address unmet demand for energy.


  • The Building Efficiency Accelerator now operates in 18 countries to spur large-scale investment to make buildings more energy-efficient. In India, we expanded the Vidyut Rakshaka program, which encourages energy conservation and efficiency, beyond Bengaluru to Chennai and Mysore.

  • Energy access work expanded in Africa with partnerships in Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda, plus two new states in India. Our new energy access maps show emerging demand and opportunities for investment in renewables, helping to bring electricity to rural schools and health clinics and their surrounding communities.

  • The Green Power Market Development Group expanded to six Indian states. In the U.S. our guidance helped 21 states develop green tariffs to supply cost-effective renewable electricity to large buyers.

  • Our work with corporations, utilities and non-profit partners helped U.S. companies procure 6.33 gigawatts of renewable energy in 2018—five times more than in 2014. With this market now mature, we spun off the Renewable Energy Buyers Alliance as an independent organization to carry this work forward.

What to Watch

In a new partnership, the American Cities Climate Challenge Renewables Accelerator, WRI will help guide cities as they seek to procure renewable energy and quickly implement and scale clean energy solutions.


WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities is shifting the ways cities are built, showing that integrated actions can transform communities into vibrant economies where everyone breathes clean air, lives in healthy and safe environments, and has access to all the opportunities of urban life.


  • Since 2015, we have influenced 370 cities, far surpassing our goal of more than 200 cities by 2019 through deep, targeted and catalytic engagement.

  • In Mexico and Colombia, the Building Efficiency Accelerator helped translate national guidance on resource efficiency in buildings into practical implementation protocols, providing the technical assistance needed to move from commitment to action for many cities.

  • WRI Brasil awarded the first InoveMob Challenge to bynd, a carpooling app for corporate communities, helping it to expand from São Paulo to other Brazilian cities and beyond.

  • In India, the Station Access and Mobility Program incubated five start-ups offering innovative last-mile solutions in Bengaluru; the new Better Bus Challenge aims to improve bus systems nationwide.

  • NUMO, the New Urban Mobility alliance, is expanding our engagement on shared, electric, on-demand and autonomous technologies.

  • With WRI’s help, more than 10 major cities are making streets safer. Changes include new bicycle lanes in Bogotá and Fortaleza, Brazil; new pedestrian infrastructure in Accra and Mumbai, India; new traffic-calming measures in Addis Ababa, and expanded public spaces in Bandung, Indonesia.

What to Watch

The inaugural WRI Ross Prize for Cities, awarded in April 2019, will bring global attention to innovations that have catalyzed transformative urban change, inspiring similar efforts around the world.


WRI seeks to help drive the systemic change needed for greenhouse gas emissions to peak by 2020 and reach net zero by 2050, while enhancing resilience that will contribute to sustainable development. We aim to do this by accelerating national climate action, building ambitious and accountable international climate action and measuring and monitoring progress.


  • Our work on the Paris Rulebook helped lay the foundation to implement the landmark agreement, supported by the “Step Up 2018” campaign and the latest New Climate Economy report.

  • More than 530 companies in 38 countries have committed to science-based targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions through work led by WRI and partners; more than 180 are taking specific action to meet their targets.

  • We helped develop the second America's Pledge report, a comprehensive assessment of how states, cities and business are helping to drive down U.S. emissions, with the potential to reach within striking distance of the U.S. climate goal of cutting emissions 26-28 percent by 2025, despite setbacks at the federal level.

  • We launched the online Climate Watch platform, which brings together comprehensive data on greenhouse gas emissions and climate related-information to increase transparency and track progress on climate targets.

What to Watch

WRI is supporting a wide range of countries to enhance their climate commitments by 2020, including through international processes such as the UN Secretary-General’s Climate Summit and the G20.

The Ocean

To address threats facing the health and economic vitality of the ocean, WRI is expanding its existing work and carrying forward work that WRI’s Patron, HRH The Prince of Wales, undertook through his International Sustainability Unit. Two high-profile initiatives—the High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy and Friends of Ocean Action—will help drive a global movement, Ocean Action Agenda 2030.


  • Norway selected WRI to establish the secretariat and be the content driver for the High Level Panel, whose first meeting with heads of state took place during the UN General Assembly in New York in September 2018.

  • Former President of Costa Rica José María Figueres, a former WRI Board member, and Peter Thomson, UN Special Envoy for the Ocean, joined WRI as Distinguished Fellows.

  • We entered into a collaborative agreement with the World Economic Forum to drive the Ocean Action Agenda 2030 through Friends of Ocean Action.

  • WRI and the World Economic Forum will co-lead the Global Plastics Action Partnership, a public-private initiative to dramatically reduce plastic pollution, especially in the ocean.

What to Watch

In 2019 we will begin releasing a series of “Blue Papers” exploring the sustainable ocean economy. They will summarize the latest science, focusing on implications for developing countries. In 2020 we will release a major report showing how protection and sustainable use of the ocean can help meet urgent human needs.


WRI’s business offerings—our protocols, analytical tools and other knowledge products—are the go-to resource for forward-thinking companies, providing benchmarks for sustainability targets, resource monitoring, management and ambition as companies shift to inclusive and sustainable business models.

  • Building on our paper, The Elephant in the Boardroom, we continue to be a thought leader on sustainable consumption—working with some of the world’s biggest brands to test business models that go beyond selling more stuff to more people.

  • We support hundreds of global businesses to set climate reduction targets in line with the Paris Agreement, including Levi Strauss & Co., L’Oréal, Mahindra Sanyo Special Steel, IKEA, Origin Energy, Caesars Entertainment and Mastercard.

  • We challenged business to work with government to accelerate rather than undermine progress toward sustainability through outreach on a new research paper, The Ambition Loop.

  • Through P4G, the Partnering for Green Growth and the Global Goals Initiative, we helped spark or accelerate 24 green growth public-private partnerships in developing and emerging economies.


WRI’s Economics Center supports the seven Global Challenge Programs and the regional hubs and international offices by offering research-based insights into the financial, economic, and social values that healthy ecosystems and natural resources provide. The Economics Center also oversees the New Climate Economy work described in the next section.

  • The Economics Center and WRI México provided inputs on sub-national decarbonization policies to the governor of Sonora. These provided supporting evidence for Sonora to sign the Under2 Memorandum of Understanding in September.

  • Working with the Water Program and WRI Brasil, the Economics Center published Green-Gray Assessments that are helping to shape the Water Fund Conservation Strategy for Sao Paulo, Brazil’s largest city.

  • Based on the findings of our report Roots of Prosperity: The Economics and Finance of Restoration, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization has begun offering decision-makers better information on the costs and benefits of forest and landscape restoration.


We track developments in international and domestic finance and use analysis and policy entrepreneurship to encourage the financial system’s shift toward environmentally sustainable investments.

  • Our report, Toward Paris Alignment: How the Multilateral Development Banks Can Better Support the Paris Agreement, calls for maximizing climate finance while gradually bringing portfolios in line with the Paris Agreement.

  • Outreach around our paper, Setting the Stage for the Green Climate Fund’s First Replenishment, helped shape a better board conversation on GCF governance.

  • Our working paper, Moving the Green Belt and Road Initiative: From Words to Actions, provided the first comprehensive analysis

  • of Chinese finance flows to the energy and transportation sectors in BRI countries. The research helped inform high-level discussions in China, which has pledged that the massive international infrastructure initiative will advance sustainability and climate goals.

  • Our publications documenting WRI’s sustainable investment journey—efforts to align our endowment with our mission and values—are helping other asset owners to revise their investment strategies.


We help protect the rights of the world’s most vulnerable citizens by empowering people and strengthening institutions to build a resilient, just and sustainable future for all.

  • The Escazú Agreement, a new treaty that guarantees environmental rights and protects environmental defenders in Latin America and the Caribbean, was signed by 16 countries at the 2018 UN Economic Commission for Latin America and Caribbean Negotiations in Costa Rica, the result of eight years of work by The Access Initiative, a WRI-led alliance, and the Governance Center’s Environmental Democracy Practice.

  • More companies, risk assessors and investment management firms are using LandMark, established by WRI and 12 leading land rights organizations as the first global mapping platform of indigenous and community lands, to conduct due diligence and identify land risks in supply chains.

  • The Global Commission on Adaptation, launched in October 2018, aims to raise the visibility of climate change adaptation and spur a global movement to bring scale and speed to adaptation solutions. Its work is described in the next section.