Sustainable development recognizes that growth must be both inclusive and environmentally sound to reduce poverty and build shared prosperity for today’s population and to continue to meet the needs of future generations. It must be efficient with resources and carefully planned to deliver immediate and long-term benefits for people, planet, and prosperity. Read More »
Over the past two decades, economic growth has lifted more than 660 million people out of poverty and has raised the income levels of millions more, but too often it has come at the expense of the environment and poor communities.
Through a variety of market, policy, and institutional failures, Earth’s natural capital has been used in ways that are economically inefficient and wasteful, without sufﬁcient reckoning of the true costs of resource depletion. The burning of fossil fuels supported rapid growth for decades but set up dangerous consequences, with climate change today threatening to roll back decades of development progress. At the same time, growth patterns have left hundreds of millions of people behind: 1.2 billion still lack access to electricity, 870 million are malnourished, and 780 million are still without access to clean, safe drinking water.
Sustainable development recognizes that growth must be both inclusive and environmentally sound to reduce poverty and build shared prosperity for today’s population and to continue to meet the needs of future generations. It is efficient with resources and carefully planned to deliver both immediate and long-term benefits for people, planet, and prosperity.
The three pillars of sustainable development – economic growth, environmental stewardship, and social inclusion – carry across all sectors of development, from cities facing rapid urbanization to agriculture, infrastructure, energy development and use, water availability, and transportation. Cities are embracing low-carbon growth and public transportation. Farmers are picking up the practices of climate-smart agriculture. Countries are recognizing the value of their natural resources, and industries are realizing how much they can save through energy and supply chain efficiency.
The question facing countries, cities, corporations, and development organizations today is not whether to embrace sustainable development but how.
The World Bank Group integrates the principles of sustainable development into its work with clients across all sectors and regions.
Those principles are also at the heart of the World Bank Group’s mission statement released in 2013 and are aligned with its overarching goals to end extreme poverty and promote share prosperity:
“Ending extreme poverty within a generation and promoting shared prosperity must be achieved in such a way as to be sustainable over time and across generations. This requires promoting environmental, social, and fiscal sustainability. We need to secure the long-term future of our planet and its resources so future generations do not find themselves in a wasteland. We also must aim for sustained social inclusion and limit the size of economic debt inherited by future generations.”
The World Bank Group’s work in sustainable development can be found prominently in, for example, its urban development projects, including support for energy efficiency improvements in buildings, public transit, and carefully planned development based on low-carbon growth and social inclusion, including public services.
The Bank’s Inclusive Green Growth report provided an analytical framework and priority steps for helping clients design public policies and encourage the investments needed to strengthen sustainable development and improve standards of living in rapidly developing countries. Much that is useful can be done now: clean air and water and solid waste management are basic needs, and many urban planning and environmental policies enhance productivity and poverty alleviation. Ultimately, sustainable growth hinges on good growth policy, which aims to get prices right and fix markets, address coordination failures and knowledge externalities, and assign property rights.
In rural areas, the Bank emphasizes resource-efficient, climate-smart agriculture practices and a landscape approach that recognizes the interdependence of forests, water supplies, and food security. The Bank Group is committed to the goals of the Sustainable Energy for All initiative: achieving universal access to energy, doubling the rate of improvement in energy efficiency, and doubling the share of renewable energy in the global mix by 2030.
In response to the Turn Down the Heat reports, which spell out the dangers of climate change, World Bank President Jim Yong Kim has called for a plan equal to the scale of the climate problem.
Ensuring the success of sustainable development requires indicators to monitor performance. The Bank Group is working with partners to develop greenhouse gas accounting standards and tools, measures for green growth, and national accounting indicators for comprehensive wealth that can help determine if growth is sustainable in the long run. Helping countries develop natural capital accounting practices also underpins the transition to greener growth that sustains environmental assets—water, land, air, ecosystems, and the services they provide—for future generations.
There is no single model for sustainable development. Strategies will vary across countries, reflecting local contexts. But all countries, rich and poor, have opportunities to make their growth greener and more inclusive without slowing it.
The World Bank Group incorporates sustainability and climate change resilience into its work across all sectors. It is helping 130 countries take action on climate change, and working with cities through partnerships, such as the Greenhouse Gas Protocol and the Energy Sector Management Assistance Program (ESMAP), to help cities account for their emissions and increase their energy efficiency. In fiscal year 2012, the World Bank doubled its financial lending that contributes to adaptation, and it is supporting adaptation and mitigation actions on the ground to finance the kind of projects that help the poor grow their way out of poverty, increase their resilience to climate change, and achieve emissions reductions.
The World Bank Group’s financing for power generation, transmission and distribution, and energy policy and regulatory reform has helped expand energy access to millions of households in over 60 countries. At the same time, Bank Group financing, combined with advisory and analytical services and policy support, has helped launch and scale up renewable energy generation and energy efficiency at national, sub-national, and municipal levels.
In support of sustainable urban development, the World Bank has increased the number of projects and lending volume for urban development over the last decade, helping countries to improve the lives of urban dwellers. Its urban upgrading work in Vietnam, for example, improved infrastructure, housing, and the environmental and living conditions for the poor in four large cities. A municipal services project in Bangladesh helped plan and finance critically needed urban infrastructure and services, such as water supply and waste removal.
In China, the World Bank Group is involved in low-carbon growth projects, energy efficiency, and renewable energy development. Public transportation is an important element of low-carbon growth in cities, for lowering both vehicle emissions and pollution. The World Bank has supported the development of several public transportation systems, including bus rapid transit systems in Bogota, Mexico City, and Lagos, where some 200,000 commuters take advantage of the system every day.
With World Bank support, more countries are also approaching the relationship among land, forests, water, and food security in a more holistic, sustainable way, and they are beginning to account for their natural assets as part of their economic wealth. Through the work of the World Bank partnership Wealth Accounting and Valuation of Ecosystem Services, or WAVES, natural capital accounting has become an increasingly important tool to gauge sustainability and ensure sustainable use of resources.
Through all of these sectors, the Bank Group is contributing to the development of a common vision for sustainability and green growth as an instrument to achieve sustainable development.
The World Bank Group participates in several global programs and partnerships, which play key roles in the Bank Group’s sustainable development work. Their objectives include investing in the creation and sharing of knowledge, more closely aligning policies and practices across the World Bank and with donors, and mobilizing funding in direct support of clients.
Among those global programs and partnerships, the following are hosted within the Bank's Sustainable Development Network or its Climate Change Group:
Smart strategies for inclusive green growth take advantage of immediate benefits, avoid locking in unsustainable practices, offer the right incentives, and find innovative ways of financing projects.
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Around The Bank Group
Find out what the Bank Group's branches are doing on Sustainable Development.