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The Year the World Bank Fused Sustainable Development with Its Goals for the Future

December 23, 2013


A herder purchases a portable solar power system in Mongolia. A World Bank-supported "Solar Gers” project in Mongolia is bringing clean electricity to about 70 percent of the country's nomadic herders, about half a million people.

Stephan Bachenheimer/World Bank

The World Bank Group set two ambitious goals in 2013, and in the process made clear that one concept will underlie its actions toward both: sustainability.

"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," the goals document reads. "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."

With the goals as a foundation, the Bank Group set a clear direction for its energy work going forward that focuses on exanding energy access, use of renewable energy, and improvement in energy efficiency. In urban development, it launched the Low-Carbon, Livable Cities Initiative to help fast-growing cities in developing countries plan for sustainable development and prepare to finance it. The World Bank Group also established a firm, evidence-supported position on climate change and on the critical need for building resilience and integrating disaster risk management into development to save lives and avoid millions of people falling back into poverty.

In other sectors, the Bank Group expanded sustainable development principles by ramping up work in the use of information and communication technologies, support for public transportation systems, development of climate-smart agriculture, and work in integrated urban water management. A new report on social inclusion dove deeper into the forces behind exclusion that challenge sustainable development and the goal of shared prosperity.

Sustainable Energy for All

In June, the World Bank Board of Directors, representing 188 member countries, put expanding energy access and accelerating energy efficiency and renewable energy at the core of the Bank Group's work in the sector. The energy directions paper embraced the goals of a new international initiative: Sustainable Energy for All, chaired by World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Its goals: by 2030, achieve universal energy access, double the share of renewable energy in the global mix, and double the rate of improvement in energy efficiency.

The energy directions paper also drew global attention for its position on coal: It affirmed that the World Bank Group will “only in rare circumstances” provide financial support for new greenfield coal power generation projects. Several multilateral development banks and developed country governments followed with similar pledges.

The Bank also increased its focus on geothermal exploration, reducing gas flaring, and, through its ESMAP partnership, increasing the use of cleaner cookstoves and helping cities improve their energy efficiency.

Significantly, the directions paper emphasizes energy prices as a key to energy efficiency and growing the share of renewable energy sources in countries' energy mix.

Low-Carbon, Livable Cities

From Africa to Asia, city leaders were talking with the World Bank about resilience and low-carbon development. They want to build a long, successful future, but most of them face a serious challenge: finance. Only 4 percent of the 150 largest cities in developing countries are considered creditworthy in international financial markets, and only 20 percent in local markets.

The World Bank launched its Low-Carbon, Livable Cities Initiative in 2013 to help. It focuses on two vital steps: urban planning, including developing the greenhouse gas accounting and other data and analysis needed for informed decisions, and helping cities raise their credit ratings so they can tap into the finance needed.

The Bank's first City Creditworthiness Training Program for African cities drew 55 senior municipal administrators from 10 countries for a five-day training event in October to get them started. The program's ambitious goal: help 300 cities in developing countries raise their credit ratings over the next four years and begin securing projects and finance. With the many other partners focused on cities, we see momentum growing around support for municipal and city leaders and institutions.

" We need to secure the long-term future of our planet and its resources so future generations do not find themselves in a wasteland. "

World Bank Group Goals Document

Climate Change

Throughout 2013, the World Bank focused attention on large-scale work to address climate change through sustainable development across the sectors. The Turn Down the Heat  reports provided evidence of the danger: without action to stop it, climate change threatens to roll back decades of development progress, and while everyone will be affected, the poor will suffer the most.

The Bank focused on where climate action can make the greatest difference: building low-carbon, resilient cities by mobilizing finance, urban planning, and expertise; moving forward on climate-smart agriculture to make the food supply more resilient to climate change and help sequester carbon; accelerating energy efficiency, investment in renewable energy, and universal access to energy; and, underpinning these actions, the Bank began looking at how to lay the groundwork for a robust price on carbon and how to ramp up efforts to remove harmful fossil fuel subsidies.

"Get the prices right, get finance flowing, and work where it matters most," Vice President for Sustainable Development Rachel Kyte told world leaders at the climate change conference in Warsaw in November.

Looking Ahead

In the coming year, Vice President Kyte will move to a new role as World Bank Group Vice President and Special Envoy for Climate Change. The new structure allows expertise from across the entire World Bank Group to be brought together to support solutions for all clients. It is a concrete response to mitigating and adapting to climate change and building investment in resilience through urban planning, sustainable energy and transportation, energy efficient construction, integrated water management, disaster risk management, and climate-smart agriculture.

As 2013 turns into 2014, and with Typhoon Haiyan and the people of the Philippines in our hearts and minds, World Bank Group President Kim's call for plans that are appropriately scaled to the size of the challenge is matched by the requests for partnership. We will do all we can to play our part and encourage others to step up.