World Resource Institute

WRI Annual Report 2019-20

Confronting A New Reality

WRI 2019-2020 Annual Report

A New Reality

We are at a unique and troubling moment in history. As I write this letter, the coronavirus continues to spread, posing grave danger to people, undercutting the global economy and disrupting our way of life.

This year, 2020, was supposed to be one of crucial decisions on climate, biodiversity and the ocean. Progress is now more difficult in the near term. But at a deeper level, the current crisis could open the door for important change. The pandemic reminds us that we are all more vulnerable than we thought, that we need to radically improve our capacity to assess, reduce and manage risk, and that solving global problems requires global cooperation.

We must emerge from the current crisis with a clear understanding that there is a better way. Two of the signature moments of international diplomacy in the last decade—the Paris Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals—were forged when world leaders came together, put aside individual agendas and agreed to tackle massive collective action issues. But since then, we’ve seen a fracturing of this spirit, a deterioration of trust and a weakening of global cooperation.

This must now change. The crisis just might provide a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reset the social contract between citizens, governments and corporations—one founded on a new commitment to support the vulnerable, protect natural systems and address common threats together. We shouldn’t count on this, of course. History reminds us that crises can bring us together or push us apart. Crises can lead to cynicism and a “looking inward,” or to a determination to “build back better.” At WRI, we will work hard to achieve the latter.

For example, we are working to ensure the trillions of dollars that will be spent to reboot economies around the world will not simply build back the same vulnerable, high-carbon, unequal paths of the past, but promote new approaches, new technologies, more and better jobs, and the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.

WRI is well placed to work with our partners during the make-or-break years ahead. Over the past decade, we’ve greatly expanded our capacity: internationalized our operations, now with offices in 11 countries; invested heavily in best-in-class data systems; sharpened our focus on economic development, and worked intensively with partners to create a set of platforms that promote system-wide change across key sectors.

The crisis has again reminded us all that it is the poor who are least able to protect themselves and who suffer most. At WRI, we are reinforcing our focus on the vulnerable. We are also scaling up our work in Africa and are especially pleased that Wanjira Mathai has recently joined WRI, as our Vice President and Director for Africa.

This report seeks to bring to life some of the exciting impacts of the past year, and some of our plans for the coming years. We are very proud of the work of our 1,000 highly professional staff and our many partners.

On behalf of WRI’s Board and staff, I would like to express our deepest appreciation to our partners and supporters—all of you—for standing with us through good times and bad. Our mission is more critical and urgent than ever. Thank you for supporting us as we seek to become even more effective in these precarious times.

Andrew Steer
President & CEO
Washington, DC
April 6, 2020


WRI’s presence spans five continents, with international offices and regional hubs forming a global network, united by shared values and common goals that aim to drive systemic change in response to urgent environment challenges while creating opportunities for inclusive growth and prosperity for all.

“More than ever, the world needs sharp solutions rooted in evidence, which is what I hope to deliver alongside the WRI China team.”
—Fang Li, Chief Representative, WRI China

“I look forward to building on WRI’s foundation in Africa to set a vision and direction to address urgent environmental issues as we support sustainable, equitable economic growth across the continent.”
—Wanjira Mathai, Vice President and Regional Director for Africa, WRI


International Offices

Africa | WRI Africa’s new strategy aims to spur sustainable economic transformation. It’s supported by three pillars: Vital Landscapes that focus on rural areas, forest protection and restoration, and water and energy access; Thriving Resilient Cities, bringing together sustainable urban areas, water, energy and climate; and Institutional and Economic Transformation to support governance and policy reform.

Brazil | In the face of a challenging political context, WRI Brasil is expanding its efforts to make the economic case for more inclusive low-carbon action. Working with leaders of states, cities and city associations, WRI Brasil is also working to intensify the drive for people-centered urban communities and unlock the potential of forest restoration.

China | China’s progress on climate change will help shape the global response. WRI China is supporting the shift toward a low-carbon economy, while tackling water issues and encouraging environment-smart urban development. WRI China is also conducting analysis and outreach to improve the sustainability of the Belt and Road Initiative.

Europe | As the European Green Deal aims for a climate-neutral EU by 2050, WRI Europe works to inform the continent’s intellectual, leadership and financing role in development and environmental issues. Staff in The Hague and London work on WRI’s core issues, including a circular economy, food, cities, the ocean, water and climate, along with fundraising and communications.

India | WRI India provides cutting-edge research and analysis to inform the approach of government officials and business leaders with a focus on sustainable cities, energy, forests and climate. Our work aims to help improve the incomes and well-being of the urban and rural poor—in a manner that is inclusive, sustainable and resilient.

Indonesia | WRI Indonesia is working with government officials at national and local levels to advance sustainable economic growth through Indonesia’s new Low Carbon Development initiative. WRI Indonesia is also working to foster sustainable agriculture production and protect intact forests, while expanding clean energy access and enhancing food security.

Mexico | WRI México focuses on four key areas—climate, cities, forests and energy—to inform the planning and implementation of sustainable urban design, expand the electrical vehicle fleet, protect forests, restore rural landscapes and increase access to clean energy. Our team works with federal and local governments and the private sector to spur greater climate ambition in Mexico and across Latin America.

United States | Despite environmental rollbacks by the current administration, WRI U.S. supports state and local action, working with members of Congress to lay the groundwork for future legislation. We provide independent analysis and recommendations to help cities and businesses accelerate renewable energy procurement, electrify vehicles, improve energy efficiency in buildings and spur innovation.

Top Outcomes

At WRI, we measure our success by our outcomes: significant actions by governments, companies and civil society, informed by our work, that improve people’s lives and the environment . Each year, our leadership selects the biggest outcomes which WRI’s staff has contributed to—our Top Outcomes.

Our 2019 Outcomes highlight innovations in public policy, business strategy and investments at the local, national and global levels . They are made possible by cutting-edge research, analysis and strategic partnerships in dozens of countries around the world.

“WRI’s Top Outcomes reflect the kinds of shifts we need to make in order to transform our global systems. We need to find a better way forward—one that is secure, low-carbon and resilient.”
—James Harmon, Chairman, Caravel Management LLC; Co-Chair, WRI Global Board of Directors


WRI's 2019 Top Outcomes

Over 100 countries commit to enhance NDCs in 2020; 65 are supported by the NDC Partnership WRI’s research and outreach helped mobilize and equip countries to commit to increased climate ambition. The NDC Partnership, of which WRI is a member, provides technical assistance and funding to help developing countries implement and enhance their NDCs.

Food providers serving nearly a billion meals per year commit to the Cool Food Pledge
WRI and partners are helping hotels, restaurants, hospitals and other dining facilities cut their food-related greenhouse gas emissions by 25% by 2030—and save money—by serving more plant-based dishes and championing “delicious climate action.”

Over 100 companies monitor commodity- related deforestation in their supply chains and investments
The Global Forest Watch Pro online mapping tool helps large companies and local NGOs understand, report on and help eliminate deforestation by agricultural commodity suppliers in more than 90 countries.

The Global Commission on Adaptation elevates climate adaptation’s political profile and catalyzes major commitments
WRI and partners recruited high-profile champions to bring greater visibility to climate change adaptation through a new report and a Year of Action focused on accelerating revolutions in understanding, planning and finance for adaptation in key economic sectors.

Four iconic cities around the world and four states in India and Mexico save lives on the road
WRI and partners have helped governments adopt comprehensive road safety plans and regulations that have reduced vehicle speed and improved road design to make streets less car-centric and safer for pedestrians and cyclists.

Cities in the U.S. and companies in China and Mexico lead a shift to renewable energy
WRI helps accelerate demand for renewable energy through new coalitions, such as supporting the city of Cincinnati on a deal for the largest municipal solar array in the U.S. and helping companies in China and Mexico set examples for their peers.

Over 280 companies set ambitious targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in their value chains
By the end of 2019, the Science Based Targets initiative validated targets from companies with a combined market capitalization of over $9 trillion. They will work to reduce emissions throughout their value chains, spurring other companies to follow.

Indonesia adopts its first Sustainable Development Plan, informed by WRI’s analysis
WRI led a research consortium to support Indonesia’s efforts to mainstream low-carbon development and its numerous economic benefits by making climate action central to its new five-year national development plan.

Bogotá and Medellín, Colombia, and Santiago, Chile, adopt Latin America’s largest electric bus fleets
WRI provided technical assistance to plan for and procure nearly 1,000 electric buses, including the two largest fleets outside China. The new buses will lower operating costs and improve local air quality while also reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The U.S. government allocates $60 million to develop carbon removal technology
WRI helped make the case for federal support to develop direct air capture and other carbon removal technologies that take carbon out of the atmosphere, which could play a pivotal role in stabilizing the global climate by mid-century.

Looking Back: The 2010s

WRI grew in size and reach, with expansion to new geographic regions, undertook groundbreaking economic research on the benefits of climate action, created new and unusual partnerships to drive change at scale and gave extensive support for the landmark international agreements of this era.

Global Growth:
The Institute expanded from one full-time international office outside the United States to offices in 11 countries on five continents.

Incisive Data Tools:
Aqueduct’s Water Risk Atlas, Global Forest Watch and Resource Watch are in the vanguard of WRI’s online information platforms, built to get timely data and insights into the hands of decision-makers who need them.

Support For Big Ideas:
Our trusted research and analysis informed critical aspects of two of the decade’s landmark global agreements: the Paris Agreement and Sustainable Development Goals.

Platforms That Drive Impact:
WRI brought together unusual partners to create political momentum to scale our work and deliver transformative change in the world.

Looking Forward: The 2020s

The stakes couldn’t be higher. Beating climate change, and protecting the world’s forests, ocean, water, and biodiversity, while building back better from the current crisis and promoting a more equal, resilient and healthy future, cannot be achieved by incremental change. Systemic change is required across all key areas of economic life. WRI’s entire program will be directed toward this end, focusing on:

The Economic Narrative:
The revolutions required in energy, agriculture, transport, urban design and manufacturing can be achieved in a way that increases efficiency, good jobs, good health and prosperity.

Social Inclusion and Resilience:
Successful transformation will require engagement of all citizens and a much greater focus on assessing, reducing and managing risk, especially for the poor and most vulnerable.

Coalitions for Transformational Change:
Individual actors cannot solve problems on their own. Coalitions of governments, business, finance, civil society and research can create ambition loops and drive progress toward positive tipping points.

Leadership on the Front Line:
Resources to influence change must be allocated carefully and boldly so they can achieve the most transformation at scale. We will place our best staff and resources where they will have the biggest impact.

“In these times, WRI’s mission is more critical and urgent than ever. We must protect people today, as we tackle longer term challenges to the environment, climate and sustainability. We must build stronger, more resilient communities for everyone.”
—David Blood, Co-founder and Senior Partner, Generation Investment Management; Co-Chair, WRI Global Board of Directors