Serving as secretariat to the High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy, WRI brought ocean health to the forefront of the global economic agenda.
Declining ocean health threatens both biodiversity and humanity. Overfishing, habitat and biodiversity loss, plastic pollution and climate change could cost the global economy more than $400 billion annually by 2050. Even though a healthy ocean could support sustainable and equitable economies and communities, ocean-based tactics have been largely overlooked as a solution to global challenges.
The High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy (Ocean Panel) was established in 2018, and its 14 members represent countries with diverse oceanic, economic and political perspectives. Collectively, they account for almost 40% of the world’s coastlines and 30% of exclusive economic zones. The Ocean Panel sought to inspire global political momentum and secure a sustainable ocean economy for future generations.
As the Ocean Panel’s secretariat, WRI helped build and coordinate multi-stakeholder action groups. Additionally, WRI convened a network of over 250 experts and contributing authors from 48 countries. This Expert Group produced a comprehensive research series of 16 Blue Papers. WRI also created an Advisory Network, bringing together 135 leaders from NGOs, intergovernmental organizations and the private sector focused on scaling and accelerating action in line with the Ocean Panel’s recommendations. Furthermore, WRI provided leading analytical inputs to the Ocean Panel and authored three notable special reports on climate change solutions, a sustainable ocean economy and a blue COVID-19 recovery – all three were widely quoted by the Ocean Panel heads of state and governments and have helped shape ocean economy recovery policies. More than a year of research culminated in the final Ocean Panel-commissioned report, managed by WRI.
The Ocean Panel has already led to nearly 40 significant commitments and policy changes. Most notably, 14 heads of state and government committed to sustainably manage 100% of the ocean area under their national jurisdiction by 2025, an area the size of Africa and comprising 30% of the world’s EEZs. They also endorsed a set of 74 priority actions to achieve a sustainable ocean economy by 2030. These actions fall under five main pillars – ocean wealth, ocean health, ocean equity, ocean knowledge and ocean finance – and should inspire more global leaders to make the same commitments.
Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, a number of important global economies made progress on their emissions goals and some announced new ambitious commitments on climate change. These countries demonstrate that there is a way forward for climate action even in difficult contexts.
In 2020, countries faced multiple crises: the global pandemic and an economic crisis. At the same time, countries need to take meaningful action on the existential threat of climate change.
As part of the international Paris Agreement on climate change, countries were expected to come forward with more ambitious Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) in 2020. Action from major emitters is especially important, given the outsized role they can play in controlling global temperature rise, and regional leaders are important to inspire other nations.
WRI worked alongside many organizations to analyze and mobilize partners to encourage leaders to take more ambitious climate action at the national and global levels. In the United Sates, WRI provided timely research, analysis and expert testimony, and leveraged close relationships with partners to encourage members of Congress to embrace climate solutions, such as efforts to phase down hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) – potent greenhouse gases. In China, WRI shared insights to encourage the government to set ambitious climate targets through stakeholder engagement initiatives like “Vision 2050,” and other long-standing, targeted efforts. WRI-led research, roadmaps and high-level dialogues over several years to help make the case for the government to create a long-term deep decarbonization strategy, demonstrated how this could be realized technically, and how smart climate action could lead to stronger and better growth.
In Brazil, Colombia and Ethiopia, WRI and its partners in the New Climate Economy (NCE) initiative developed innovative modeling to assess the true costs of climate change and the benefits of inclusive green growth. This cutting-edge analysis accentuated the opportunities these countries have to grow their economies and protect vulnerable populations by pursuing strong climate action. This would lead to faster poverty alleviation and more jobs, as well as better health and GDP outcomes than business-as-usual paths. WRI and NCE also supported tailored engagement campaigns, which armed decisionmakers with compelling evidence on the opportunities for climate action and inclusive growth.
Despite the pandemic, countries’ plans and policies demonstrated that climate action remains a global priority. The United States enacted legislation to phase down the use of super-pollutant HFCs, with enormous bipartisan support, putting the country on a path to compliance with the international Kigali Amendment. In China, President Xi announced that the China will achieve carbon neutrality before 2060, along with peaking its carbon dioxide emissions before 2030.
Both Colombia and Ethiopia submitted updated NDCs. Colombia committed to a significant 51% reduction in carbon emissions by 2030—one of the most ambitious plans released so far. Ethiopia developed a more robust target aligned with its 10-year development plan to build a climate-resilient, green economy, and new plans to enact a “triple-zero” framework of achieving zero hunger, zero poverty and zero emissions by 2050. In Brazil, the idea of a green recovery has begun to take root in newspapers and on social media, as well as in certain financial sectors.
COVID-19 introduced demand for physical distancing. WRI guided the rapid implementation of safer, more sustainable cycling infrastructure and public transport systems in multiple cities and countries throughout the world.
The COVID-19 pandemic generated urgent demand for walking and biking routes that offer both space for physical distancing and protection from road safety risks. Many cities saw temporary or permanent cycling lanes as a solution, but didn’t know how to implement them quickly, safely or equitably. Simultaneously, mounting health concerns and the urgent need for physical distancing has had adverse effects on public transportation. Cities needed new strategies to overcome the financial and operational challenges brought on by the pandemic-fueled drop in ridership.
WRI supported the rapid development of safe and accessible temporary and permanent cycle lanes, as well as the improvement of public transportation systems to help city officials develop cleaner, healthier, well-managed and customized transportation alternatives. Depending on the city’s needs, WRI offered: technical guidance on COVID-19 best practice; direction for on-the-ground implementation of mobility solutions; and webinars that provided general design and policy recommendations.
Many cities focused on providing safer spaces for cyclists and pedestrians. For example, WRI India helped the city of Bangalore design and implement a new temporary cycle lane in one of the densest and busiest parts of the city. In Zapopan, México, WRI Mexico conducted a data study on traffic crashes that influenced the city’s road and cycle lane redesign. When Buenos Aires experienced a pandemic-induced spike in cycling, WRI Brasil’s road design and traffic-management support helped city officials build protected cycle lanes on major roads
Other cities developed more sustainable public transport infrastructure. For example, before COVID-19, bus passengers in New Delhi were required to buy tickets directly from the bus conductor. Recognizing that this system put passengers and the crew at risk of virus transmission, WRI India convinced the Delhi Government to invest in a digital payment system.
WRI’s guidance helped bring safer, greener, accessible, affordable and more resilient mobility to cities during a year of unprecedented health and financial uncertainty. WRI’s interventions bring cleaner and safer transportation alternatives and better public transportation management to 30 cities across 10 countries and one region. These mobility solutions will benefit the lives of all city citizens, but especially the lives of people in lower-income communities where public transportation options are now limited due to COVID-19. Looking ahead, WRI strives to make these temporary improvements in cycling and public transportation systems permanent and to incorporate them into cities’ long-term strategic development plans, ensuring that these positive impacts last beyond the global pandemic.
WRI’s 10x20x30 Initiative mobilized some of the largest food retailers, providers and suppliers to address inefficiencies within the global food system by committing to halve their food loss and waste by 2030.
Each year, one-third of all food produced globally is lost or wasted between farm and fork, exacerbating food insecurity in a world where one in ten people are undernourished. This level of inefficiency is responsible for 8% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and equates to $940 billion in economic losses annually.
COVID-19 exacerbated the situation. Food redistribution declined, while demand rose due to increased unemployment levels. Additionally, crops went to waste when restaurants and food service businesses lost customers due to closures and distancing restrictions.
Reducing food loss and waste within private sector supply chains is essential to achieving Sustainable Development Goal Target 12.3 to cut food loss and waste in half by 2030. In 2019, WRI’s Champions 12.3 coalition created the 10x20x30 Initiative and recruited 12 food retailers and food service providers— representing six of the world’s largest food retailers, the second-largest food service provider, and major regional food retailers in Africa, the Middle East and East Asia.
In 2020, these food retailers each focused on recruiting 20 of their suppliers to halve their food loss and waste by 2030. WRI trained the new network of suppliers (nearly 200 in total) on how to implement the Target-Measure-Act approach. Suppliers set food loss and waste reduction targets; measure and identify food loss and waste hotspots using WRI’s Food Loss & Waste Protocol; and act on these hotspots. By leveraging the market power of retailers and food service providers, WRI achieved major commitments from food suppliers to reduce their food loss and waste.
The 10x20x30 Initiative’s 12 founding partners all engaged with approximately 20 of their own food suppliers on the importance of reducing food loss and waste. As a result, these 12 food retailers and providers inspired nearly 200 food suppliers to commit to cutting their food loss and waste by half by 2030. By incorporating food loss and waste reduction into their operations and strategy, food suppliers, retailers and providers are developing concrete actions to combat food insecurity, reduce GHG emissions and establish sustainable business models. Most importantly, these commitments signal that the food industry is shifting towards a model that prioritizes food loss and waste reduction and a sustainable food future.
WRI worked with civil society partners and governments in Latin America and the Caribbean to ratify the Escazú Agreement, a treaty formally protecting the lives and rights of environmental defenders.
Latin America and the Caribbean are plagued by increasingly deadly conflicts over natural resources. According to Global Witness, 1,044 environmental activists were murdered between 2010 and 2019, with Colombia and Brazil seeing the highest number of killings. In 2018 alone, 83 of the 164 environmental defenders killed around the world were from Latin America. The Regional Agreement on Access to Information, Public Participation and Access to Justice on Environmental Issues in Latin America and the Caribbean, known as the Escazú Agreement, is Latin America and the Caribbean’s first-ever legally binding treaty on environmental rights.
Widescale ratification of this agreement will provide unprecedented special protections for environmental defenders, including: a safe environment for people and organizations under threat; widescale recognition, protection and promotion of environmental defenders’ rights; and formal measures to prevent, investigate and punish attacks, threats or intimidation against environmental defenders.
During a two-year campaign, WRI and regional partners from The Access Initiative (TAI) – of which WRI serves as secretariat – encouraged countries to ratify the Escazú Agreement. WRI’s Environmental Democracy Index highlighted the deficiencies in current laws, called attention to countries with just environmental protections and justified the need for improved standards under the Agreement. In building a race to ratification, WRI and TAI focused on three groups of countries: countries interested in using their influence to drive action on Escazú; signatory countries who had not yet led outreach to civil society; and countries where it was important to keep the Escazú debate alive.
To increase awareness and advocacy around the importance of the agreement, and with support from the Government of Costa Rica and the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, WRI launched youth Champions of Escazú in five countries to support the campaign.
WRI worked with The Elders, an independent group of global leaders focused on restoring peace, justice and human rights, and promoted The Elders’ positive incentive campaign that recognized countries’ ratification efforts.
Between 2018 and early 2021, 12 governments in Latin America and the Caribbean ratified the Escazú Agreement – Mexico, Argentina, Antigua & Barbuda, Guyana, St. Vincent, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Panama and Uruguay. The Agreement comes into full force on April 22, 2021.
This groundbreaking agreement includes some of the strongest legally binding provisions to protect environmental defenders, ensure that vulnerable populations can fully exercise their environmental rights and strengthen public participation in environmental decision-making. These ratifications are a historic milestone in the journey to not only protect the lives of environmental defenders, but to increase accountability and transparency in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Together with government authorities and partners, WRI Mexico successfully drove Mexico to declare safe mobility a constitutional human right. This new amendment will benefit all Mexican citizens and opens the door for a new mobility and road safety bill.
Since 2012, WRI and more than 40 social, technical and activist organizations have urged Mexico to adopt more policies, laws and national rights to promote and improve public mobility. However, despite efforts to reduce traffic fatalities, the number of deaths on Mexico's roads have remained relatively the same over the past decade; according to the World Health Organization, the estimated number of people who die annual in traffic accidents in Mexico remained over 16,000 between 2010 and 2019.
The creation of mobility as a constitutional human right – with an emphasis on sustainability, safety, accessibility and inclusion – is an opportunity to strengthen and redesign the legal and institutional framework for mobility management. However, the dispersed nature of Mexico’s federal government makes prioritizing mobility and road safety challenging. The levels of government responsible for planning, designing, awarding, constructing and operating Mexico’s transportation systems need to work together more effectively, and their roles must be clarified.
Since 2012, WRI Mexico has been working with government authorities to establish a legal framework for a national mobility policy. WRI Mexico completed an analysis on mobility and road safety financing mechanisms, studied the legal and constitutional feasibility of a road safety initiative, and led communications campaigns and workshops. These all pushed federal legislators to view mobility and road safety as a priority.
Recently, WRI Mexico promoted agreements between federal government institutions, legislators from various political parties, local mobility authorities, and civil organizations to establish guidelines to develop the General Law on Mobility and Road Safety. These guidelines, in turn, will simplify, strengthen and redesign Mexico’s legal and institutional framework for mobility management, as well as improve coordination of road safety efforts at all three levels of government.
On October 14, 2020, the country’s Chamber of Deputies unanimously voted in favor of adding an amendment to Mexico’s constitution. It reads: “Every person has the right to mobility under conditions of safety, accessibility, efficiency, sustainability, quality, inclusion and equality.” On December 18, 2020, the constitutional reform was officially approved and published when 23 out of 32 local congresses unanimously ratified the change.
Within six months of the amendment’s ratification, the Federal Congress is required to approve a General Law on Mobility and Road Safety, which WRI Mexico is supporting. This law would clarify roles and responsibilities within the government, better distribute funding for mobility projects, and create a unified database for the administration of licenses, plates and fines. The constitutional right to mobility will ensure all Mexican people have access to safe roads, helping drastically reduce the number of tragic road deaths throughout the country.
Countries in Southeast Asia have historically relied heavily on coal and fossil fuels to meet their growing energy needs. WRI and partners helped decisionmakers in the Philippines and Indonesia set pathways toward a renewable energy future.
Southeast Asia’s energy demand has grown roughly 6% per year since 2000, one of the fastest growth rates in the world. Despite declining renewable energy prices, Southeast Asian countries have largely opted for fossil fuels to meet their growing energy needs. Close to 60% of Indonesia's electricity supply comes from its 29-gigawatt coal fleet. A recent draft of the Philippine Energy Plan still proposed significant portions of coal and oil in its energy mix, targeting 55% by 2040. Shifting Indonesia and the Philippines’ energy systems to a modern, affordable, low-carbon path can help the two countries attract foreign investment, create jobs, address climate change and improve public health in a region that has been hit hard by the pandemic and by poor air quality.
In the Philippines, WRI worked with Allotrope Partners and the U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) under the Clean Energy Investment Accelerator (CEIA) initiative and led multiple public-private dialogues. These discussions centered around developing policy that addresses the coal pipeline and deploys more renewable energy. The CEIA organized industrial leaders to voice support for the increased use of affordable clean energy; WRI relayed key takeaways from the dialogues to key Filipino government agencies. WRI also authored an op-ed analyzing the draft Philippine Energy Plan, its effects on the share of fossil-fueled power plants for 2030 and its implications for the growth of the renewable energy market. These activities helped the Philippine Department of Energy shift away from its proposed coal pipeline.
Similarly, WRI Indonesia helped Perusahaan Listrik Negara (PLN), Indonesia’s state-owned electricity utility, build the first renewable energy tracking system in the country. Renewable Energy Certificates (REC), are a commonly used method around the world to track clean electricity generation and to allow a market for renewable energy to emerge. Together with Allotrope Partners, WRI prepared a report for PLN that defined and explained RECs, tracking system methodologies and assessed design options. The team organized industrial leaders to provide input on how PLN’s REC program could meet global GHG reporting requirements and renewable energy purchasing commitments.
In the Philippines, the Philippine Department of Energy set a moratorium on new coal plants, effectively cancelling — or at least stalling — 10,700 megawatts of coal power projects in the energy project pipeline in October 2020. The Philippine National Renewable Board (NREB) has also indicated that it will include a target of achieving 35% renewable energy by 2030 in a new draft of the Philippine Energy Plan.
In November 2020, PLN instituted Indonesia’s first REC tracking program, showcasing a national and corporate-driven shift towards renewables. As a result, PLN registered its project under the program, a geothermal power plant located in West Java. This marks the beginning of a new renewable energy market in Indonesia.
Both of these policies are critical first steps in enabling the regional and global transition away from coal and towards clean energy.
In 2020, the UN adopted a Second Decade of Action for Road Safety – from 2021-2030 – focused on linking road safety design with the Sustainable Development Goals. WRI played a pivotal role in shaping the declaration and has already helped put these ideas into action to inform pedestrianization efforts in India and Turkey, among other cities in the developing world.
Traffic crashes kill more than 1 million people annually, and dangerous roads put vulnerable populations, like children and the elderly, at risk. In 2010, the UN declared 2011-2020 the Decade of Action for Road Safety, with most countries signing a declaration to reduce traffic fatalities by 50% by the end of the decade. Still, global traffic fatalities continued to grow. With help from WRI, the UN is now calling on member states to recognize the synergies between the road safety and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and to commit to a second global decade of action for road safety.
As a member of the UN’s Steering Committee group, WRI helped shape and plan for the UN’s Third Global Ministerial Conference on Road Safety. The conference resulted in the adoption of the Stockholm Declaration, which later prompted the adoption of the UN’s Second Global Decade of Action for Road Safety. The ideas in WRI’s report Sustainable and Safe, which was co-authored with the Global Road Safety Facility (administered by the World Bank), make up key elements of the Stockholm Declaration. These include prioritizing the safety of children and young people, as well as vulnerable road users like cyclists and pedestrians, and welcoming new policies that ensure safe standards for road infrastructure improvements, among others.
Simultaneously, WRI worked to make road safety a reality in cities around the world. In 2017, WRI Turkey and İzmir Metropolitan Municipality (IMM) wrote a joint report aimed at improving transport infrastructure in Turkey’s İzmir Kemeraltı region. The report provided human-centered recommendations, including new streetlights, signs for direction and designated pedestrian-only hours. In India, following a request from the Lt. Governor of Delhi, the WRI India team led the pedestrianization of “Chandni Chowk,” the most densely populated market street in Delhi, India.
In August 2020, the UN adopted the “Stockholm Declaration” with an increased focus on the interdependence between road safety and the SDGs. With WRI’s support, this agenda has already taken hold in Turkey’s İzmir Kemeraltı region and Delhi’s Chandni Chowk, among other cities in low- and middle-income countries.
Based on WRI’s recommendations, Kemeraltı redesigned 100 streets that now offer attractive and accessible public spaces that prioritize walking, foster a healthier city, reduce traffic congestion and promote local economic development. The city was added to the temporary UNESCO World Heritage List, solidifying its path to becoming a pedestrian-friendly and sustainable city. Meanwhile, Delhi physically transformed Chandi Chowk’s 1.3 kilometers (0.81 miles) from a congested vehicular corridor to a non-motorized public space. Now, there are segregated lanes for pedestrians and non-motorized vehicles, as well as designated spaces for vendors.
Building resilient, low-carbon infrastructure that prioritizes nature is critical to sustainable development and a strong COVID-19 recovery. Supported by WRI, the World Bank has scaled up green-gray infrastructure investments, signaling that nature-based-solutions are a new institutional priority.
Nature-based-solutions (NBS) build resilience and protect communities from the impacts of climate change by harnessing the power of natural systems. Integrating “green” infrastructure — which utilizes natural systems like forests, wetlands and mangroves — into human-built “gray” infrastructure projects can deliver more cost-effective and resilient services, better address climate and ecosystem risks and enhance human health and well-being. This NBS approach can help countries around the world achieve their Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
International development and financial institutions like the World Bank can play a critical role in scaling up green-gray integration, shifting away from carbon-intensive infrastructure and channeling capital to NBS. However, historically, these institutions have not strongly signaled an interest in NBS, nor provided a pathway for their clients and partners to utilize them.
The World Bank’s NBS program was established in 2017. WRI began supporting the World Bank on its NBS strategy in 2018. WRI co-developed the vision and co-authored the World Bank’s flagship report on NBS, Integrating Green and Gray, leading research and analysis on the technical, social, economic, policy and financial case for green-gray infrastructure. The report proposes a new direction for international development and finance.
Aware that green infrastructure must be as rigorously evaluated and carefully designed, WRI also helped steer the appropriate use of green infrastructure in mainstream infrastructure programs. WRI synthesized guidance for how to appraise green-gray projects on par with traditional gray infrastructure projects. To encourage investment in NBS and inform future NBS efforts, WRI created detailed information packets and case studies for World Bank staff. The World Bank continues to disseminate these knowledge products to staff, partners and project teams in countries such as Rwanda, Turkey, Senegal and Seychelles.
Since 2018, the World Bank has increased its NBS projects by 20% in its disaster risk management portfolio, unlocking almost $2 billion for integrated green and gray infrastructure. This has included support to Seychelles in advancing coastal resilience through the development of an NBS-informed coastal management plan; supporting strategic flood risk assessments and identifying potential flood risk management interventions that include NBS in Panama; and supporting the integration of urban green infrastructure principles into flood risk management and infrastructure upgrading in unplanned settlements in Kigali, Rwanda.
The Bank also prioritized NBS in a number of relevant institutional strategies, including its 2020 COVID-19 response plan. By defining a pathway for clients to access NBS funding on equal footing to traditional gray infrastructure projects, the World Bank is signaling to their clients and other banks that integrating nature into infrastructure investments is a priority.
WRI provided analysis to help inform India’s 15th Finance Commission’s fiscal recommendations. The Commission increased India’s national budget for air quality governance and committed to ecological fiscal transfers and forest protection.
Reducing air pollution and protecting forest cover are major developmental challenges for India. Air pollution threatens India’s climate and water security, public health and agricultural yields. Protecting and restoring forests can be a financial burden, since the cost to maintain forests that provide critical ecosystem services is placed disproportionately on states with high forest and tree cover. The country is developing new governance approaches to address these challenges and financing frameworks are a key part of the solution.
In 2020, the 15th Finance Commission a constitutional body appointed every five years to propose a framework for tax sharing between the center and each state, received a mandate to recommend steps toward inclusive growth in India, with a focus on equity, efficiency and transparency. This presented an opportunity to support efforts to advance sustainable development policies and governance in India.
WRI was offered an opportunity to submit an analytical piece on air pollution which provided the 15th Finance Commission with insights on the sources, causes and impacts of air pollution. More specifically, it proposed effective governance models to reduce emissions and air pollution. WRI suggested ways to address the transboundary nature of air pollution, as well as its ties to urban growth patterns and the infrastructure choices made by cities.
In parallel, WRI India worked in partnership with representatives from other local and global research organizations to form an expert consultative group and discussed how the forest cover criteria can be strengthened and retained to support forest-related climate, social and development goals. For example, WRI India conducted studies showcasing how states in India innovatively used funds from previous ecological fiscal transfers to spur restoration efforts and enhance livelihood opportunities for local communities. Through regular meetings, the group synthesized their findings and submitted a discussion paper to the 15th Finance Commission highlighting the role of fiscal transfers in supporting India’s forest sector goals.
The 15th Finance Commission is the first Commission to specifically discuss and set budget allocations for improving air quality. Based on recommendations from the interim FC report, India’s 2020 national budget for air pollution was 10 times greater than in previous years.
Additionally, the Commission’s final 2021-26 report increased the weightage for forest cover from 7.5% to 10% within its tax devolution formula, a calculation that identifies the amount of money states receive from the union government. This means that forest cover carries more “weight” when the government is determining how to distribute funds. India’s central government transferred an estimated 85,526 crores ($11.1 billion) to states based on their forest cover in 2020-21, allowing states to fund a range of public services, including health care, education, sanitation and infrastructure development.
The 15th Finance Commission continues to show leadership and commitment to ecological fiscal transfers and is taking critical steps towards improved air quality governance. These budget recommendations signal that sustainable development remains a national priority.