World Resource Institute

Tackling Global Challenges

Tackling Global Challenges

We will focus on urgent global challenges that must be addressed to reduce poverty, grow economies and protect natural systems: food, forests, water, energy, cities, climate and the ocean.

Because these seven challenges are inextricably linked, our strategies often address more than one, cutting across programs.

“The challenges we face are massive, urgent and interconnected. We need people across all sectors to pull together and move us to a bright and strong future. There’s no time to waste!”
—Christiana Figueres Former Executive Secretary, UNFCCC; Board Member, WRI


How can the world feed nearly 10 billion people by 2050 in a manner that advances economic development while reducing pressure on the environment?

This will require closing a 56 percent gap between the food available now and what is needed by 2050, supporting inclusive economic and social development and reducing agriculture’s impact on the environment. All this must be done while also making agriculture resilient to a changing climate.

WRI’s 2013 World Resources Report Creating a Sustainable Food Future identifies more than a dozen solutions—four that reduce growth in consumption and nine that sustainably boost production through a combination of climate-smart crop, livestock and fish production, and ecosystem restoration (see figure below). In the coming five years, WRI will focus on reducing food loss and waste, shifting diets and restoring degraded agricultural land. By reducing waste and identifying business models that make more efficient use of agricultural resources, WRI’s Food program will support the transition to a more circular economy.

Reducing Food Loss and Waste

About a quarter of the calories produced for people are never eaten, which costs farmers and consumers money, erodes company profits and undermines food security. WRI’s research has shown that if global food loss and waste were a country, its greenhouse gas emissions would be the third largest after China and the United States. WRI aims to catalyze a global movement by encouraging governments and the private sector to measure and report on food loss and waste, set targets for reducing food loss and take action to fill gaps in the global food loss and waste reduction agenda. To provide a foundation for improved data collection, we worked with six partner organizations to create the Food Loss & Waste Protocol, a unique coalition to develop the first global standard on how to measure and report food loss and waste.

Going forward we will conduct outreach, training and support so that more governments and companies conduct food loss and waste inventories. We will track global progress in an annual report. We will encourage governments and companies to set targets to cut food loss and waste by 50 percent, leveraging Champions 12.3, a coalition of nearly 40 executives dedicated to achieving Target 12.3 of the Sustainable Development Goals, which calls for halving food loss and waste by 2030. We will fill gaps in the global agenda—for example, by mobilizing funding to reduce post-harvest losses in developing countries and to simplify date labeling on food packaging worldwide.

Count It: Menu for a Sustainable Food Future

Shifting Diets

In countries where people currently eat or are projected to eat large amounts of resource-intensive foods such as beef, reducing consumption to levels recommended by doctors could improve health, lower health care costs and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

WRI’s effort to shift diets will focus on making plant-based proteins profitable for companies and attractive to consumers. We will encourage major food providers worldwide to commit to sustainable diet targets, such as increasing the proportion of plant-based foods.

Through our Better Buying Lab—a WRI platform that brings together experts in consumer research, behavioral economics and marketing and food companies that serve some 65 billion meals a year—we will develop new products and approaches that encourage consumers to choose plant-based foods and businesses to sell them. For example, because terms like “vegetarian” are off-putting for some consumers, Better Buying Lab members are testing alternative names for plant-based foods that will appeal to meat eaters and nonmeat eaters alike.

We will scale these innovations through a new Cool Food Coalition, a global alliance of leading food companies that pursue science-based targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adopt innovations from the Better Buying Lab.

Restoring Degraded Agricultural Land

Globally an estimated 1.5 billion hectares (3.7 billion acres) of once-productive croplands and pasturelands—an area nearly the size of Russia—are degraded. Restoring productivity can improve food supplies, water security, rural livelihoods (especially for women and other marginalized people) and the ability to fight climate change. Our approach to restoration is described in the Forests strategy below.


WRI seeks a future where by 2030, large-scale forest loss and degradation have been consigned to the history books and much of the world’s lost and degraded forests are recovering. To achieve this vision, the world must safeguard and maintain remaining forests and restore degraded forests and deforested lands. Our Forests program includes three platforms that align with this global strategy.

Monitoring Forest Clearing Through Global Forest Watch

Launched in 2014, Global Forest Watch (GFW) is an interactive monitoring platform that detects forest clearing. Developed with dozens of partners ranging from governments to multinational companies to advocacy NGOs, GFW combines satellite data, cloud computing and human inputs into easy-to-understand online maps. Indigenous peoples use GFW to secure their land rights, global companies use GFW to eliminate deforestation from their supply chains, governments use it to fight forest fires, and activists and journalists use it to expose illegal logging. In the coming five years, we will move from start-up to full implementation, enhancing GFW’s tools and strengthening engagement with target users. We will improve the precision of algorithms we use to interpret satellite data to assess forest changes, expand forest fire alerts, apply technology to understand drivers of forest clearing, assess progress on international forest protection commitments and offer decision-support tools.

Restoring Degraded Landscapes and Forests

Restoring damaged lands can improve the lives of the mostly poor people who live on them, begin to heal the damaged atmosphere, increase food production—and make money. Our Global Restoration Initiative aims to help bring 500 million hectares (1.2 billion acres) of degraded forests and agricultural lands—an area more than half the size of China—into the process of being restored by 2030. Doing so would generate millions of jobs, empower women, conserve biodiversity, renew water and food supplies and sequester billions of tons of greenhouse gases.

First, we motivate leaders to make bold commitments by quantifying economic and other benefits using the Restoration Opportunities Assessment Methodology (ROAM) developed by WRI and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Next, we enable action by working with public, private and community leaders to develop place-specific strategies that align the policy, institutional, social, market and ecological conditions needed for success. Finally, we will help line up financing and monitor progress.

WRI will implement this strategy through two regional partnerships: Initiative 20x20, a country-led effort to bring 20 million hectares (49 million acres) of land in Latin America and the Caribbean into restoration by 2020, and the African Forest Landscape Restoration Initiative (AFR100), a country-led effort to bring 100 million hectares (247 million acres) of land in Africa into restoration by 2030. These partnerships bring together governments, technical experts and financial institutions to inspire ambition, connect projects with finance and technical assistance and spur implementation.

“Momentum is building to restore degraded land—and with good reason. It raises incomes, creates jobs, improves food and water security and fights climate change.”
—Felipe Calderón Former President of Mexico; Board Member, WRI


Maximizing Benefits from the World's Forests

Combating Illegal Logging and Trade

Illegal logging sets in motion a downward spiral of forest encroachment that can end in outright deforestation. It is linked to corruption, violence and transnational crime. The Forest Legality Initiative helps to safeguard forests by strengthening capacities of governments, companies and civil society to combat illegal logging and associated trade. In the coming five years, WRI will catalyze the development of cutting-edge timber tracking technologies to identify illegally sourced wood and create a web-based Open Timber Portal that enables forestry departments to enforce laws while helping companies avoid buying illegally harvested wood and assisting civil society groups in reporting illegal logging.


The UN estimates that about 1.9 billion people live in water-scarce areas. If current trends continue, this number will rise to around 3 billion by 2050, with up to 5.7 billion people living in areas experiencing water scarcity at least one month per year. It does not have to be that way. Water-scarce societies as diverse as Australia, Israel and Ethiopia have taken steps to effectively manage water limitations. There are well-established technical solutions, from catchment dams and irrigation efficiency to water pricing and caps on withdrawals. Too often, however, the severity of the challenge, the potential solutions and what it takes to implement them are poorly understood.

WRI’s strategy is to drive change through radical transparency about water risks and identifying potential solutions. We offer high-resolution geospatial data, timely analysis and customizable tools to overcome inertia due to short-term thinking and vested interests. We aim to achieve a tipping point by 2022 or soon after when effective water management is the expected new normal.

Providing Global Water Risk Information with Aqueduct™

The heart of our delivery platform is Aqueduct, the world’s highest resolution, publicly available, water risk information resource. Developed in cooperation with European governments, major companies, private foundations and others, Aqueduct’s maps provide indicators of water demand by sector, supply (surface and groundwater, seasonal and year-to-year variability, droughts and floods), and water quality for more than 15,000 watersheds worldwide. It also provides projections of water scarcity and risk based on climate models and economic and population growth.

When we launched Aqueduct 2.0 in 2013, there was little understanding of baseline water stress, Aqueduct’s key metric. Today water stress is more widely understood, and Aqueduct is used by governments, global companies, providers of investment information and multilateral institutions such as the World Bank, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the International Energy Agency (IEA).

In 2018, we will launch Aqueduct 3.0, which will improve resolution 10-fold, to an average watershed catchment area of just 10 square kilometers (less than 4 square miles). We will release improved country and basin assessments, combined surface and groundwater analysis, and Aqueduct Food, which will combine water and food security risk data in user-friendly maps.

Future tools include Aqueduct Cities, with data on access to water and sanitation, flooding and land use change, and Aqueduct Energy, offering location-specific information on water demand and supply risks for power plants. These and other data overlays will help improve water allocation decisions.

Projected Water Stress in 2040 (Aqueduct)

Engaging Water Decision Makers

Too often, water management decisions are made without a full understanding of risks and opportunities. To make effective water management the new normal, we will utilize Aqueduct to offer new tools and analysis tailored to three sets of decision makers:

  • National governments. Starting in Ethiopia, we will identify emerging hotspots where competition for water could limit growth and hurt the most vulnerable. We will develop early warning systems to flag where water and food insecurity could unleash conflict and migration pressure. Building on WRI research in India and China, we will show how water shortages hinder fossil fuel–based electricity production and how renewables and energy efficiency can cut water use, save money and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

  • Companies. The private sector has led the way in responding to water risk. In the coming five years, our work with companies will focus on three frontier issues: a place-based solutions framework to watershed challenges, accounting for water benefits of investments in energy efficiency and renewable energy, and water and agricultural productivity.

  • Cities. Building on a model we developed for Bengaluru, India, we will offer a tool to assess water availability, flood risks and the state of watersheds and other natural infrastructure. Expanding on recent work in China, we will develop policies and business models to scale closed-loop sanitation systems that reduce solid waste and water pollution, generate biogas and cut greenhouse gas emissions. Building on work in the U.S. and Latin America, we will support the design of cost-effective investment programs and innovative financing instruments for sources, watersheds and other natural infrastructure.


Two-thirds of electricity is currently generated from fossil fuels, and an estimated 1.2 billion people lack access to reliable electricity. Yet the opportunity for rapid transformation of the power sector has never been greater. Renewable energy is at cost parity with fossil fuels in some markets, and investments in efficiency can reduce energy consumption and costs.

China, India and other major economies have set ambitious renewable energy goals. Transportation is increasingly electrified, fueling demand for additional renewable energy. Updated policies, leadership by major energy users and providers, and new business models can accelerate these transformations while bringing clean, renewable energy to all.

Over the next five years, WRI will help speed this transition by building and communicating demand for clean, renewable electricity, increasing the energy efficiency of buildings and improving access to clean energy, especially for poor people in East Africa and India.

Clean and Renewable Electricity

Large buyers account for more than half of electricity consumption in the U.S. and many major emerging markets. By harnessing their interest in affordable renewable energy, we will shift utility planning and regulatory decisions to speed deployment of renewable power for all consumers. In the U.S., the Renewable Energy Buyers Alliance (REBA)—a delivery platform led by WRI, WWF, Rocky Mountain Institute and BSR—has helped over 70 companies purchase nine gigawatts of renewable energy, which is equivalent to the capacity of 19 medium-sized coal-fired generating units. These companies have used the Corporate Renewable Energy Buyers’ Principles that WRI helped to create to improve collaboration with 14 major U.S. utilities, which are now offering new renewable energy supply options that have resulted in more than a gigawatt of additional renewable energy generation capacity.

In the next five years, we will expand REBA globally and include cities and other institutional buyers, engage regulators to improve electricity market design and advance innovative utility and distributed energy business models through utility forums in the U.S. and Asia.

Expanding Scale and Impact in Renewable Energy

Energy Efficiency of Buildings

Buildings account for one-third of global energy consumption and a quarter of carbon dioxide emissions. To cut energy use and emissions, WRI coordinates the Building Efficiency Accelerator of the UN’s Sustainable Energy for All initiative. Active in 18 countries, this global partnership of over 65 public and private institutions is adapting and adopting building energy codes, upgrading buildings and improving indoor conditions for urban residents. Through resources such as the agenda-setting guidebook Accelerating Building Efficiency: 8 Actions for Urban Leaders, WRI shows how improved building efficiency can save money and improve health.

Over the next five years, we will expand the Building Efficiency Accelerator to more cities and subnational governments, creating a powerful global delivery platform. We will support cities aspiring to achieve net-zero emissions by reducing energy demand in buildings, installing renewable energy generation, reducing urban heat and the need for increased cooling, and planning for electric vehicles.

“Renewable energy makes business sense. The market opportunity is enormous, and the shift to clean energy around the world is unstoppable.”
—Michael Polsky President and Chief Executive Officer, Invenergy; Board Member, WRI


Increasing Energy Access

Lack of reliable electricity is closely associated with income poverty and low human development indicators. It also places a disproportionate burden on women and girls, who typically are responsible for gathering fuel, carrying water and cooking over sooty stoves. Distributed renewable energy such as minigrids and solar home systems will play a central role in improving poor people’s lives by bringing electricity to remote rural areas and under-served urban settlements.

In the next five years, we will work with governments, companies and civil society in East Africa and India to accelerate this process. We will create online maps to identify new markets for off-grid electricity. We will design and test new financing and contracting models that enable clinics, schools and agro-processing facilities to become anchor customers for renewable energy, meeting their own needs and bringing electricity to the communities they serve.


Decisions made in cities today will determine whether humans succeed at creating a sustainable future.

Disruptive services such as ZipCar and the bike-share revolution, visionary initiatives like PlaNYC and the Copenhagen Climate Adaptation Plan, and civil society movements like Raahgiri car-free days in India are changing cities for the better. Nonetheless, most of the world’s 5,000 cities are headed in the wrong direction, toward increasing sprawl and inequality.

To build compact, connected, coordinated and resilient cities, the world needs mechanisms to increase the number and variety of experiments, experts to draw lessons, and networks to spread successes. This is what WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities seeks to ignite. In the coming five years, we will work to transform cities around the world through deep engagement with a small number of highly influential cities, targeted engagement and technical assistance to a larger number of cities, and the rapid scaling of successful approaches through networks. We will increase our engagement in rapidly urbanizing Africa, where cities can avoid costly mistakes made elsewhere.

WRI Engagement in Cities Worldwide

Practical Solutions for Decision Makers

Drawing on 15 years of experience around the world, we have defined 16 groups of solutions— such as public transport, road safety, building efficiency and waste-to-energy—where WRI can offer significant expertise. By creating coalitions for a specific solution, we facilitate collaboration with mayors, planners, companies and civil society groups. Our solutions fall in three categories, each with the potential to rapidly improve the lives of the poor and under-served majority in the burgeoning cities of the developing world:

  • Land use. We will work to minimize the number of households on the outskirts of cities with poor access to basic services by helping to create more compact, mixed-use, mixed-income neighborhoods that are connected to nearby jobs, shopping, clinics and schools.

  • Mobility. Our goal is triple zero: zero fatalities or serious injuries, zero transport-related emissions and zero exclusion, with accessible and affordable transport for all. We aim to reduce the need to travel; shift toward shorter, energy-efficient trips, such as walking and biking; and promote mobility as a service, such as transit and ride-hailing. We will also work to accelerate transport electrification, reduce air pollution and speed the shift to a low-carbon economy. To channel disruption in areas such as shared, electric and autonomous vehicles, we will build a broad coalition to align and harness existing efforts to research and pilot-test innovations to tackle tough sustainability challenges.

  • Energy. With WRI’s Energy program, we will help cities transition to low-carbon energy infrastructure through better building codes, clean distributed energy resources, energy sourcing for electric vehicles, water efficiency and sludge-to- energy strategies.

“If we want a sustainable future, we need to get cities right. The WRI Ross Center seeks to make sure that cities of tomorrow are places where all people can work, play and thrive—for generations to come.”
—Stephen M. Ross, Chairman and Founder, Related Companies; Board Member, WRI


Evidence-Based, Scalable Approaches

We will provide cutting-edge research and tools for data analysis so that city decision makers have access to a global knowledge base when making local decisions. Drawing on our World Resources Report Towards a More Equal City, to be launched in 2020, we will champion approaches that focus on meeting the needs of the urban under-served as the key to creating more prosperous, sustainable and equitable cities.

Our global learning platform, TheCityFix Learn, and family of international TheCityFix blogs, will showcase solutions, trainings, news and analysis on everything from bike and pedestrian transport to housing and climate resilience.



Achieving the Paris Agreement goal of keeping average temperature rise well below 2 degrees C (3.6 degrees F) will require global greenhouse gas emissions to peak by 2020 or soon after and fall to net zero by 2050.

This transformation demands a stronger case for action focused on economic opportunities, more technical and financial support for countries implementing their Paris commitments, and an effective international climate regime to inspire greater ambition. Because some climate impacts are unavoidable, societies must invest more in adaptation. We will devote our skills, energy and resources to help achieve these imperatives.

Advancing the New Climate Economy

WRI research has shown that climate action and prosperity go hand in hand. Bold climate policies can improve resource efficiency, accelerate technological change and provide predictable market signals that boost investment, jobs and poverty reduction. To realize this vision, we will continue to work with the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate and its flagship New Climate Economy (NCE) project (of which WRI is managing partner) to identify opportunities for greater climate action globally and in key geographies. The 27 commissioners include former heads of government and finance ministers and leaders in economics, business and finance. NCE works with the World Bank, regional development banks, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), UN agencies, companies and research institutes to deliver the Commission’s work plan.

Staying Below 2°C Requires Cutting Emissions and Removing CO2 from the Atmosphere

Delivering on National Climate Commitments

In response to developing countries’ calls for increased technical and financial support to implement the Nationally Determined Commitments (NDCs) they made in Paris, WRI helped create the NDC Partnership and manages its secretariat. Launched at the Marrakech Climate Change Conference in 2016, the NDC Partnership has grown rapidly and in early 2018 included 10 international institutions and more than 60 governments. A country-driven platform, it matches national priorities with analytical support and finance and speeds learning with an online platform and annual progress report.

WRI will provide analytical tools and technical support to help countries translate their commitments into viable policy and investment programs. Given the crucial need for innovation, we will support work on long-term strategies for 2050 and identify the shifts needed in the next five years to get the world on the right trajectory. We will work with countries to identify opportunities for greater climate action that deliver on economic and development priorities and link to action by cities, states and businesses.

An Arc of Ambition

Building on WRI’s track record of helping to advance international climate talks, we will work to realize the promise of the Paris Agreement. We will help foster an ambitious and accountable international climate process that catalyzes action and holds countries accountable. We will help facilitate trust among countries through negotiator and Track II dialogues that bring together high-level experts from China, India, the U.S. and other key countries. We will advance the concept of an arc of ambition, encouraging five-year cycles of stronger action. We will encourage and support countries in raising the ambition of their long-term plans.

Measurement Matters

More than 15 years ago, WRI and WBCSD developed the Greenhouse Gas Protocol, the leading standard for measuring and reporting on greenhouse gas emissions. Drawing on this knowledge and experience, we will independently assess whether country actions are in line with Paris Agreement goals. We will develop new standards, guidance and tools for calculating emissions reductions in key sectors, such as forests. We will create an international standard for aggregating commitments and progress by a wide range of actors, including countries, states or provinces, cities, and businesses.


The Ocean—the single, vast body of water that covers 70 percent of the planet—is a world treasure. It adds $2.5 trillion each year to the global economy, feeds 3 billion people, is home to more than half the world’s species, produces half the planet’s oxygen and absorbs a quarter of all carbon dioxide emissions. Yet it is a treasure in peril.

Once considered vast and inexhaustible, the Ocean is being exploited in ways that were unimaginable a few decades ago. Rampant over-fishing, plastic pollution, warming, acidification and more threaten to undermine the ability of the Ocean to underpin human well-being and life on Earth as we know it.

The world cannot afford to continue this current trajectory. A new pathway is needed, one where profitability and sustainability operate together to the benefit and health of people and the Ocean. WRI will help identify this pathway, applying our core approach of Count It, Change It, Scale It.

Count It

What is true for business is true for the Ocean: what gets monitored gets managed. Ocean monitoring is falling short. There are dozens of good Ocean initiatives and coalitions, but nobody is adding them up. Likewise, there are few efforts to link biophysical changes in the Ocean and the global policy agenda.

We will fill this gap and support the Ocean community by preparing annual State of the Ocean reports that track progress toward SDG 14—to conserve and sustainably use the Ocean. These reports will monitor developments in policies, programs, business practices and finance to determine “how goes the battle”—highlighting successes and what is needed to create system-wide change. Others can then take these findings into action. We will use Resource Watch to monitor the physical (e.g., temperature, pH, mineral resources, plastics), biophysical (e.g., fish stocks, coral bleaching), food security and biodiversity trends in as close to real time as possible.

Change It

Current practices are based on the false assumption that economic development requires over-extracting and polluting the Ocean. That narrative must change. We will help craft a new narrative by spearheading the New Ocean Economy that will bring together a dozen of the world’s top institutions in Ocean economics, politics and science. Much like the New Climate Economy, the New Ocean Economy will research and articulate the economic and political case for transitioning to a new Ocean economy—one that is good for jobs, economic growth, international competitiveness, health and the Ocean.

The evidence-based results will inform and stimulate a new narrative for governments, private-sector leaders and the media. These efforts will culminate in a landmark report, The New Ocean Economy, which will be launched at the UN Ocean Summit in 2020 and will help set the global Ocean action agenda for the next decade and make the economic case for meeting the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 14 targets. The report will showcase the costs of inaction, the benefits of action, real-world examples of success and a roadmap to achieving a New Ocean Economy.

Scale It

Change at scale requires moving in the same direction. That means getting the New Ocean Economy on the global political and business agenda and keeping it there. To do this, we will provide technical input, recommendations and messaging to the new Heads of State Panel on the Ocean that seeks to keep the Ocean crisis and its solutions on the global political agenda. We will put the New Ocean Economy findings into the hands of Ocean networks such as the Friends of Ocean Action, a coalition of executives from business, government, academia, and civil society dedicated to SDG 14. These networks will play a critical role in advancing the Ocean agenda.

“The Ocean is rising—literally and politically as an urgent crisis that must be addressed. WRI’s work with its many partners can help restore the ocean, which is essential for marine life and, indeed, all humanity.”
—Roger Sant, Co-founder & Chairman Emeritus, The AES Corporation; Board Member, WRI