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.

The Challenge

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.

WRI’s Role

The World Bank’s NBS program was established in 2017 with support from the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery and PROFOR. 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.

The Outcome

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.