Transforming Three Human Systems

To achieve our three interconnected global goals for people, nature and climate, we focus on shifting the human systems that most directly affect them: food, land and waterenergy; and cities.

These three systems — as well as the financial, economic and governance systems that underpin them — are essential to meet the world’s needs, but are largely responsible for fueling climate change, inequity and the degradation of nature.

I. Food, Land and Water

Agriculture, deforestation and land-use change account for 22% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Agriculture employs more than one-quarter of the world’s population, but also drives deforestation and uses 70% of the world’s freshwater withdrawals. Meanwhile, inequity pervades the system: Around 800 million people face hunger worldwide.

Our vision is to shift the world’s food, land and water system to meet the needs of all people while protecting nature and halting climate change.

Our approach is to:

  • Produce more food on the same or less land while minimizing environmental impacts. We work to increase agricultural yields, reduce water stress and safeguard ocean health through better farming, fishing and resource management.
  • Protect remaining natural ecosystems on land and in the ocean. We monitor forest loss and other threats, map and set strategies to alleviate water risks, help companies rid their supply chains of deforestation, increase finance for nature-based solutions and empower Indigenous Peoples to secure their ancestral territories.
  • Shift consumption patterns and reduce food loss and waste. We work with companies and governments to measure and cut their waste, while employing behavioral science and partnerships to help consumers adopt lower-carbon diets.
  • Restore degraded and deforested lands back into healthy ecosystems. We identify restoration opportunities; provide technical assistance to farmers, entrepreneurs and other local actors; build project pipelines; line up financing and monitor progress.

For health clinics, electricity is essential for powering life-saving devices like ventilators and vaccine refrigerators. Yet those located in remote and rural areas often suffer from unreliable grid connections or must rely on expensive, polluting diesel fuel to power generators.

WRI partners with government agencies and health organizations to power rural clinics in Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Uganda and India with reliable, affordable renewable energy. The project relies on the Energy Access Explorer, an open-source data platform and partnership that combines public data with custom analyses to map energy supply and demand to improve access in underserved areas. The tool allows clean energy developers and entrepreneurs, donors, electricity planning agencies, impact investors and more to identify energy-poor communities and connect them with clean, reliable and affordable electricity.

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II. Energy

Despite rising renewable energy supply, most power still comes from polluting fossil fuels. Meanwhile, more than 700 million people lack access to electricity, while energy demands are projected to rise.

Our vision is to provide clean, reliable, affordable power for all communities while reaching net-zero emissions by 2050.

Our approach is to:

  • Decarbonize the energy supply. We work closely with utilities and policymakers to develop climate-resilient infrastructure that supports variable renewables and electric transport.
  • Increase demand for low-carbon energy by leveraging relationships with corporations, institutions and governments. We focus on three areas: shifting to renewable power, electrifying vehicles and industry, and promoting energy efficiency and low-carbon buildings.
  • Expand energy access and support equitable development. We map access to electricity in underserved areas, identify areas ripe for clean energy development, and ensure historically marginalized communities are included in energy planning decisions.
  • Reduce environmental impacts and create co-benefits. We are exploring how the mining of critical minerals and materials necessary for clean energy may conflict with ecosystem protection, food production, and local land rights and land-use decisions. We will analyze the linkages between energy and food, land and water to ensure that ecosystem and global trade issues are considered.


IN ACTION: Electrifying India’s Transport

WRI is working closely with partners in India’s national government and its cities to accelerate the country’s shift to electric two-wheelers, three-wheelers and buses. While electric vehicles can reduce air pollution, curb climate change, and improve safety and livelihoods, today only 2% of India’s two-wheelers and 45% of its three-wheelers are electric.

With local partners, WRI is helping to overcome barriers and develop the policy frameworks, financing models and charging infrastructure necessary to make electric vehicles affordable to all and hit India’s target of ensuring 80% of new two- and three-wheeler sales are electric by 2030. In addition to boosting electric vehicle uptake, WRI is also working to make public transit, walking and cycling more accessible to all Indians, recognizing the importance of a coordinated system of transportation modes.


III. Cities

Most of the world’s population lives in cities. These are where the transitions in food, land and water and energy will largely play out.

Yet today, one in three urban residents lacks access to basic services like quality housing, affordable transport, clean water, reliable energy and sanitation. Nearly 90% of city residents live in places that exceed safe limits for air pollution. Many cities are located along coasts and major rivers, exposing citizens to dangerous floods. And urban areas produce 70% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Our vision is to improve quality of life for all urban residents, including expanding access to jobs and essential services.

We know that achieving systemic change requires transformations in 5,000 of the world’s largest cities. We work in 150 cities to research, test and scale solutions, with deeper engagement in 25 priority cities. We also host a prize focused on innovative urban initiatives to engage a broader swathe of cities around the world.

Our approach in all cities is to:

  • Develop livable neighborhoods. We work closely with city agencies and other decision-makers to reduce air pollution; restore urban forests and watersheds; develop safe and reliable transportation; and ensure all residents can access sanitation, clean water, parks and other services.
  • Reduce cities’ energy demands. We seek to electrify buildings and transportation. We help redefine business and procurement models, provide technical assistance on forerunner technologies, and help cities set and achieve emissions-reduction targets.
  • Build resilient water systems. We aid cities in overcoming water challenges — from lack of pipes, sewers and other infrastructure to exposure to floods and droughts. We advance nature-based solutions wherever possible and help developing cities secure finance.
  • Create better mobility. We improve public transport, help electrify bus fleets, and develop safe bike paths and pedestrian walkways. These shifts better connect residents to jobs and services while reducing emissions, air pollution and traffic crashes.
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Creating the Right Enabling Systems

Transforming human systems also means shifting the economics, finance and governance that support them.

These “enabling systems” currently incentivize the wrong things. It’s why the richest 1% of the population has more wealth than the other 99%. It’s why rising GDP often comes at the cost of greenhouse gas emissions and ecosystem destruction.

WRI strives to move economic, finance and governance systems from barriers to catalysts of progress.

I. Economics

We work to change economic goals, models, policies and behaviors to ensure healthy natural ecosystems and fair distribution of their benefits.

Our research quantifies the largely untapped social and economic benefits of reducing emissions and protecting nature. We advance policies and economic incentives for low-carbon, nature-positive development. We use behavioral economics to shift consumption patterns toward climate-friendly choices, like plant-based diets. And we help countries foster a “just transition,” ensuring no one is left behind by the shift to a low-carbon economy.

II. Finance

We work with investors, banks, finance ministries and others to shift financial flows toward low-carbon development and away from environmentally damaging activities like fossil fuel production.

We track progress against the goals of the Paris Agreement and other targets to hold countries and others accountable for their climate finance pledges. We develop tools and research to support low-carbon investments, such as physical climate risk assessments. And we focus especially on building developing countries’ capacity for finance, where investment gaps and resilience needs are the greatest.

III. Governance

We work to develop inclusive, transparent and accountable governance systems that build trust and lead to just, effective policies and investments.

We strengthen people’s rights and ensure power and natural resources are equitably distributed. We aim to raise global ambition for climate action, including through influencing UN climate negotiations and supporting implementation of the Paris Agreement. We foster transparency and accountability through reporting and tracking mechanisms, such as corporate science-based emissions targets. And we elevate the voices and rights of vulnerable, marginalized communities.

The GHG Protocol, a 20-year-old initiative co-created by WRI and World Business Council for Sustainable Development, provides standards, tools, guidance and trainings for businesses and governments to measure and manage their greenhouse gas emissions. Over 90% of Fortune 500 companies and more than 300 cities now use GHG Protocol standards to set and track their emissions-reduction targets. The initiative also works with partners in key countries to set national emissions programs based on GHG Protocol standards.

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