World Resource Institute

WRI Annual Report 2020-21: WRI in Action

WRI In Action

WRI focuses on seven urgent global challenges: Food, Forests, Water, Energy, Cities, Climate and the Ocean. In 2020, we adjusted our approach to respond to the pandemic while continuing to drive momentum on the interlocking issues of climate, equity, health and the economy.

Our Programs

To help the world sustainably feed its people, WRI is catalyzing action to cut food loss and waste in half by 2030, shift toward plant- based diets, and make a compelling case for sustainable food and land use systems.

WRI protects forests against loss and degradation and restore forests in landscapes where they are needed most. Our activities track forest change, combat deforestation and illegal logging, and help communities and businesses manage land more sustainably.

WRI works to increase water security. Our Aqueduct tools are the world’s best source of information on global water risk and stress. Our Water, Peace, and Security Partnership early warning tool helps prevent water scarcity from driving conflict and migration. Our Cities4Forests initiative promotes investments to protect watersheds and other natural systems.

WRI collaborates with policymakers, cities, companies, utilities, regulators and development institutions to secure a future in which people everywhere have access to affordable, clean and reliable energy.

WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities helps turn cities into resilient, inclusive, low-carbon places that are good for people and the planet. Through applied research, tools and advice, our international network of experts works on innovative projects that put cities on a sustainable trajectory.

WRI works with a wide range of leaders and other partners to advance strategies to cut greenhouse gas emissions while creating strong, job-rich, equitable and resilient economies. We develop tools and conduct analysis to help cities, companies and countries measure their emissions, set ambitious targets and take bold action.

WRI seeks to accelerate systemic shifts to support sustainable development and put the ocean on a path to recovery. We play a central role in two high-profile initiatives—the High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy and the Friends of Ocean Action—to help drive a global ocean movement.

Four Centers of Excellence—Business, Economics, Finance and Governance— provide support to our programs through cross-cutting research, technical guidance and stakeholder engagement.

WRI’s Center for Sustainable Business works to change the approach of business to make
a positive contribution to human well-being and the environment. Our work centers on three main initiatives: The Science Based Targets initiative drives corporate action that aligns with planetary boundaries; we encourage circular economy models to promote alternatives to unchecked consumption; and we support policy engagement to shift business influence on government policy. WRI also plays a leadership role in two multi-stakeholder partnerships: PACE, which seeks to advance a circular economy, and P4G, which supports sustainable development through public- private partnerships.

The Economics Center conducts analysis and modeling to identify the opportunities, benefits and trade-offs in order to improve environmental management and advance climate action.

The Finance Center promotes the shift of global finance and investments away from environmentally destructive activities toward sustainable development. Through our data- driven and actionable research, we mobilize coalitions to inform financial decisions and investment strategies by governments, private sector investors, banks and multilateral institutions.

The Governance Center aims to build a resilient, just and sustainable future by empowering people and advocating for equitable decision making. We promote people’s rights and support their access to information to encourage decisions that address environmental justice issues, improve equity and support vulnerable communities.

“I am deeply impressed with WRI’s sharp, data-driven approach, which can support businesses to advance action when it comes to addressing climate change.”
—Jesper Brodin, President and CEO, Ingka Group WRI Global Board of Directors

Our Top Outcomes

WRI tracks and evaluates our impact through our Outcomes—significant actions by governments, companies and civil society organizations that are at least in part catalyzed by WRI’s research, data, recommendations, engagement and coalition- building. Despite the pandemic, we made significant progress in 2020. Among dozens of outcomes across our global network, 10 stand out.

14 World Leaders Commit to a Sustainable Ocean Economy
Serving as secretariat to the High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy, WRI helped secure commitments from 14 countries to sustainably manage 100% of their national waters by 2025 and endorse a set of priority actions to achieve a sustainable ocean economy by 2030. Our flagship report serves as a global reference guide on the components of a sustainable blue economy.

Important Economies Identify Opportunities for Climate Action
WRI conducted analysis, tracked commitments and engaged with influential champions and leaders to encourage China, Colombia, the United States and Ethiopia to raise the ambition of their climate action and to identify opportunities to step up action in Brazil. These countries are demonstrating that there is a way forward for climate action, even in difficult contexts.

Cities Prioritize Public Transportation and Cycling in Response to COVID-19
COVID-19 generated urgent demand for mobility solutions that offer both space for physical distancing and protection from road safety risks. WRI’s insights supported the rapid implementation of safer, more sustainable cycling infrastructure and public transport systems in cities around the world.

Nearly 200 Food Suppliers Commit to Cut Food Loss and Waste in Half
WRI mobilized some of the world’s largest food retailers, providers and suppliers to commit to halve their food loss and waste by 2030. These commitments signal that major players in the food industry are moving toward a model that prioritizes a sustainable food future.

12 Governments in Latin America and the Caribbean Ratify Treaty That Protects Environmental Defenders
WRI worked with civil society partners and governments in Latin America and the Caribbean—the world’s most dangerous region for environmental activism—to support ratification of the Escazú Agreement, a historic treaty that will formally protect the lives and rights of environmental defenders.

Mexico Adds Fundamental Right to Mobility to Its Constitution
Mexican authorities, legislators and NGOs, including WRI México, worked together to encourage the Mexican government to make safe and clean mobility a constitutional human right. The constitutional amendment opens the door for a new mobility and road safety bill in Mexico and sets an example for other countries.

Indonesia and the Philippines Accelerate Clean Energy Transition
WRI and partners were critical in driving policy developments that helped Indonesia and the Philippines set pathways for increased production and use of renewable energy.These new policies will unlock public and private markets for renewable energy and spur new investments in affordable, clean economic development.

Countries and Cities Embrace a New UN Decade for Road Safety
In 2020, the United Nations adopted a Second Decade of Action for Road Safety (2021–30), focused on linking road safety with sustainable development goals. WRI played a pivotal role in shaping the Declaration of Stockholm, which underpins the Second Decade of Action. It has already put its ideas into action to inform pedestrianization efforts in India, Turkey and other developing countries.

World Bank Unlocks $2 Billion for Integrated Green and Gray Infrastructure
Working with WRI, the World Bank committed to integrated nature-based (green) and traditional, human-built (gray) infrastructure investments. Its action signaled to member countries and other development banks that integrating nature into infrastructure investments is a smart strategy for sustainable development.

India’s 15th Finance Commission Supports Air Quality and Forest Protection
WRI submitted analyses to inform the fiscal recommendations of India’s 15th Finance Commission, which introduced financing mechanisms for air quality governance and remains committed to ecological fiscal transfers and forest protections.

“People around the world need access to affordable, reliable and clean power, while reducing threats from climate change. WRI’s strategic and pragmatic approach can play a critical role in solving this vexing challenge.”
—Lawrence E. Jones, Vice President, International Programs, Edison Electric Institute WRI Global Board of Directors

Spotlights: Mobilizing Transformative Action

Despite many challenges in 2020, WRI made progress in critical areas, especially through our partners and coalitions. Following are eight bright spots from the past year that we are carrying forward.

A New Strategy for Africa

To support sustainable development in Africa, WRI developed a new three-pillar strategy for Africa— one that puts women and youth at the center of inclusive transformation that will enable people and landscapes to flourish. The Vital Landscapes pillar will create productive and resilient rural areas that support livelihoods and enhance ecosystem services.

The Thriving, Resilient Cities pillar will steer Africa’s rapid urbanization toward sustainable pathways. The Institutional and Economic Transformation pillar seeks to inform the enabling policies that support equitable economic growth, transparency and resilient development.

New Opportunities in the United States

The Biden administration has provided a surge of energy to U.S. climate action. It has already begun to pursue opportunities to expand renewable energy, enhance climate resilience, and advance the next generation of low-carbon technologies and manufacturing while simultaneously addressing historic injustices and ensuring that the energy transition benefits everyone.

WRI is working with leaders at all levels of government to seize this critical window for action. In the coming year, we will analyze the job creation benefits of climate action in rural America, engage industry and private sector leaders on decarbonization opportunities, and work with members of Congress and federal agencies to accelerate the electrification of vehicles, with a focus on the fleet of 480,000 U.S. school buses.

Accelerating Adaptation

Since 2018, WRI has served as the co-managing partner of the Global Commission on Adaptation. We led the development of the Commission’s landmark report, Adapt Now, which has shifted thinking about adaptation and inspired action by government decision-makers, business executives and communities.

WRI managed several initiatives in 2020, the Commission’s Year of Action, including on finance, locally led action, agriculture, cities and nature-based solutions. Together with partners, we released the Principles for Locally Led Adaptation, endorsed by more than 40 governments and organizations, and the 1,000 Cities Adapt Now Program, which aims to accelerate adaptation in 1,000 cities by 2030. The Commission’s efforts culminated in the Climate Adaptation Summit, led by the Dutch government, in January 2021. WRI will continue to manage adaptation initiatives in the run-up to the climate summit in Glasgow (COP26) and beyond.

Greening the Belt and Road

WRI co-chairs the Greening the Belt and Road Coalition, an international network that seeks to shift investments in China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in a sustainable direction. More than 140 countries are part of the BRI, which is investing billions of dollars in infrastructure, energy and related sectors. The direction of these investments will have a significant impact on global sustainability goals, as well as on China’s vision for a more ecological society.

WRI works with the Coalition and other partners to shift financing from unsustainable investments toward green ones and to improve environmental quality in cities. We have conducted research and made recommendations on how China can better green its supply chain, especially around soft commodities, such as soy, timber, beef, pulp and paper, and palm oil.

In 2021, we are supporting efforts to make China’s foreign investments more sustainable. These actions could both reduce coal finance and encourage Chinese financial institutions to pursue renewable energy projects that help developing countries meet their climate goals.

Mobilizing National Climate Action

In order to achieve the vision of the Paris Agreement, countries need to raise their targets for emissions reductions, known as Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). At the end of 2020, more than 75 countries had set new targets for 2030, more than half of which are more ambitious than previous commitments. But many major emitters had yet to announce revised goals.

WRI supports countries by providing technical assistance, assessing and monitoring progress, and advising government leaders on their climate strategies. In 2020, we provided policymakers with guidance on potential synergies with their COVID-19 recovery efforts. Through the New Climate Economy, we worked with countries to identify pathways that can deliver a green recovery, boost jobs and growth, and enhance climate ambition.

In addition, the NDC Partnership, a global coalition of countries and institutions hosted by WRI and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), is supporting enhanced climate progress in more than 75 countries. The flagship Partnership in Action report, Keeping Ambition Alive, published last year, shows how member countries are mobilizing climate finance, integrating climate action in economic recovery plans, and identifying pathways to enhance their climate plans and actions. WRI and the NDC Partnership will continue to encourage countries to step up their commitments and action, especially in the lead-up to COP26.

Improving Urban Air Quality

In 2020, USAID selected Clean Air Catalyst—a major proposal by WRI and the Environmental Defense Fund—as the agency’s new flagship air quality program. The $20-million, five-year agreement helps cities in low- and middle-income countries reduce air pollution by advancing solutions that protect health, promote equity and tackle the climate crisis.

Through a global consortium, Clean Air Catalyst has begun work in two pilot cities: Indore, India, and Jakarta, Indonesia. In 2021, the projects will bring together local stakeholders from government, universities and scientific organizations to analyze sources of pollution and address critical information gaps. The consortium will also assess public understanding of air pollution sources and build coalitions to deliver interventions in the most polluting sectors.

Rethinking Food and Land Use Systems

WRI serves as the secretariat of the Food and Land Use Coalition (FOLU), an initiative committed to transforming the way people produce and consume food and use land. In April 2020, FOLU members signed a Call to Action for World Leaders urging immediate steps to keep the food supply flowing across the world; scale support for the most vulnerable; and invest in sustainable, resilient food systems in response to COVID-19.

In addition to publishing global research products, FOLU continued to engage with its five focus countries (China, Colombia, Ethiopia, India and Indonesia), informing new agricultural policy reform agendas in Colombia and Ethiopia. It will continue to build support for these transformations in 2021, including by leveraging global events such as the UN Food System Summit and COP26.

Pathways for Corporate Emissions Reductions

The Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) works with companies to set emissions reduction targets that are in line with the actions needed to achieve the Paris Agreement. More than 1,200 companies in 60 countries—with a combined capital value of $20.5 trillion—have joined the SBTi. More than half of them have formally approved emissions reduction targets.

Companies with science-based targets have reduced their combined emissions by 25% since 2015. In 2020, more than 150 companies signed a statement urging governments to align their COVID-19 economic aid and recovery efforts with climate science.

In 2021, SBTi will provide a standard for companies that are seeking to set net-zero targets, the first-ever such standard for the corporate sector.

Cool Food: Low-Carbon Menus

Shifting diets toward less resource-intensive food and plant-based meals reduces agriculture-related greenhouse gas emissions, which account for about a quarter of global emissions. In 2020, WRI announced a new way to calculate and certify emissions from meals, the Cool Food Meals badge. The badge, which is awarded to dishes with lower carbon footprints, enables consumers to make climate-friendly choices. Panera, a chain of 2,000 restaurants in the United States, became the first company to receive the certification, with over half of its entrees certified as Cool Food Meals.

WRI also leads the Cool Food Pledge, which helps restaurants, hospitals, hotels, universities and cities cut emissions from the food they serve. Forty organizations—which together serve nearly a billion meals a year—have signed up for the program. Within its first year, members collectively reduced food- related emissions by 4.6% overall and by 12% per plate. WRI will expand this program in 2021.

“Despite the year we’ve had, hope is on the horizon. We need to build back stronger and greener. We have the tools, technology and know-how to do things better. WRI is showing the way forward.”
—Tammie Arnold, Founding Partner, Alpha Ledger Technologies, Inc. WRI Global Board of Directors

Reflections from Andrew Steer

The past eight years at WRI have been among the happiest and most productive of my career. Thanks to our brilliant staff and generous donors we’ve been blessed with inspiring growth in impact and reach.

With our partners, we have helped change the narrative on sustainable development from that of “costs and trade-offs” to that of “investments and opportunities.” We have been at the forefront of demonstrating that the system changes we need are not only possible but, done right, will create a stronger economy, a fairer society, and a better future.

We’ve introduced important new technologies, platforms, and tools that are influencing decisions in Cabinet rooms and community meetings, in corporate boards, city halls and the global corridors of power.

In all this we’ve helped shift the needle towards hope.

Our biggest impact has been when we bring together the special ingredients that make us unique. This involves combining our globally respected data and research (“Count It”) with our on-the-ground practical presence (“Change It”) together with our policy engagement and convening

(“Scale It”).

A few common themes stand out about what makes us effective, and these are not just for WRI, but for other NGOs and organizations. We are most effective when:

  • We diagnose the big picture but focus on our irresistible offer
  • We lead but take our own flag down
  • We insist that data and rigorous analysis alone will drive our advice
  • We put the wellbeing of marginalized people at the center of how we think and act
  • We live our values every day

WRI’s role in this decisive decade is more needed than ever. And the Institute is well equipped for the next phase. We have a superb Global Board, an inspiring team working across our 12 offices, and a deep bench of managers to lead the Institute to even greater impact. And we have wonderful donors and partners, who make it all possible.

Thank you!

As President and CEO of WRI, from 2012 to 2021, Andrew Steer led the Institute through a period of growth in reach, size, influence and impact. In recognition of his remarkable contributions, we present Andrew’s tenure...

By the Numbers


By focusing the Institute on seven urgent challenges—food, forests, water, energy, cities, climate and the ocean—Andrew reinforced WRI’s position as a thought leader on the world’s most pressing challenges.


Under Andrew’s guidance, WRI expanded its reach, opening offices in Indonesia, the United Kingdom and Colombia and establishing regional hubs for Africa in Ethiopia and for Europe in the Netherlands. These offices complement WRI’s growing presence in Brazil, China, India, Mexico and the United States.


Recognizing that partners are key to addressing urgent global challenges, Andrew helped WRI establish more than 30 initiatives, partnerships and commissions, which allow WRI to think big and deliver impact at scale.


Thanks to Andrew’s leadership, WRI now employs more than 1,400 experts, researchers and other professionals, more than half of them outside the United States. The fivefold increase since 2012 has helped WRI drive momentum and maximize its impact.


Working closely with WRI’s leaders, experts and development staff, Andrew boosted the Institute’s total operating revenue to $149 million—a fourfold increase since 2012— creating opportunities to expand our reach, launch new initiatives, and provide strong oversight and financial management.


As WRI’s top spokesperson, Andrew was mentioned or quoted by media outlets more than 13,560 times during his tenure. His insights—shared through his writing and frequent media appearances—helped shape thinking and spur action.