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FEATURE STORY July 6, 2018

As the World Bank is poised to launch its new framework of environmental and social policies, borrowing countries are preparing to implement it



  • The World Bank’s Environmental and Social Framework (ESF) is expected to launch on October 1, 2018. The new Framework, which will gradually replace the Safeguard policies, provides improved protections for the most vulnerable people and for the environment.
  • Under the ESF, client countries must meet the requirements included in the 10 Environmental and Social Standards.
  • Environmental and social specialists from borrowing countries, like Aminata Bundu from Sierra Leone, are attending World Bank-organized workshops to learn about the ESF and get ready to implement the Framework’s requirements.

On any given day, Aminata Bundu will verify that a construction site’s dust and noise levels are within acceptable limits, check up on the contractor’s commitment to employ local people for manual labor, or meet with local community representatives to discuss how the project’s grievance mechanism can be improved.

Aminata is an environmental and social specialist.  She was hired by the government of Sierra Leone to work on the Smallholder Commercialization and Agribusiness Development project (SCaDeP). Among other things, the project is rehabilitating 500 kilometers of rural roads to help farmers access markets. Sierra Leone was severely hit by the Ebola epidemic in 2014, and the crisis was a huge setback in the country’s efforts to develop its agricultural sector.

Since the project is co-financed by the World Bank and the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development, Aminata checks to make sure that the project follows the Bank’s current Safeguard policies. These policies aim to ensure that, in the context of Bank-financed projects, people and the environment are protected from potential adverse impacts.

Like Aminata, environmental and social specialists around the world are employed by their governments to implement the Safeguard Policies on projects for which these governments have sought financing from the World Bank. These projects vary: from enhancing irrigation systems, to building a new power station and distribution lines, to improving the effectiveness and efficiency of a port. A change is coming for these specialists, as the World Bank transitions this year from the current Safeguard Policies towards the new Environmental and Social Framework (ESF).

The ESF provides broad environmental and social coverage, including important advances on transparency, non-discrimination, social inclusion, public participation, and accountability. The scope of social issues explicitly addressed has been broadened beyond resettlement and Indigenous Peoples to cover, for example, labor and working conditions, and community health and safety. The ESF also addresses additional environmental issues, such as climate change, sustainable management of living natural resources, and water management.

Under the ESF, borrowing countries are responsible for meeting requirements under the ten Environmental and Social Standards. To prepare clients and their specialists for this transition, the Bank is rolling out workshops focused on the content of the ESF. During these sessions, government officials learn about the main elements of the ESF, while environmental and social specialists of the project implementation agencies participate in a two-day, technical training workshop. Thus far, the workshops have hosted representatives from over 45 countries.

Reactions to the ESF among client country practitioners are encouraging.

"This Framework will put environmental and social issues at the heart of the engagement between the client and the World Bank. It will give these issues more space and more visibility. "
Dr. Emmanuel Anyang Abeka
Project environmental specialist working for Ghana’s Fisheries Commission

Dr. Abeka participated in one of the first ESF workshops, which took place in Accra in February 2018. Another participant, Harriett Pearl-Keamu, a project Safeguards Officer working on the Cheesemanburg Landfill and Urban Sanitation project in Monrovia, Liberia, noted, “The ESF will provide a better platform to manage environmental and social impacts, and to budget costs associated with these issues. My work will be easier.”

Certain aspects of the ESF particularly appeal to the specialists such as the standard on labor and working conditions.  As Aminata, who also took part in the Accra workshop, noted, “In the new ESF, I’m looking forward to the standard on labor and working conditions. I work on infrastructure projects and the standard will allow us more opportunity to make sure that contractors comply with labor requirements.”


At the same time, participants have highlighted challenges that will come with the new Framework. “One challenge will be implementation of the standard on labor and working conditions… the facilities that will need to be provided will introduce additional costs,” said Ashiba Barilla from the Philippines’ Department of Agriculture, who attended an ESF workshop in Manila in February 2018. Another challenge will be having to implement the Safeguard Policies and the ESF at the same time – since the ESF will only apply to new World-Bank financed projects whose Concept Note is approved on or after October 1, 2018.

While the ESF includes some new issues and new ways of working, specialists are already integrating some of these elements as good practices. For example, in her project, Aminata regularly holds consultations with stakeholders, especially local communities, something that will be required under Standard 10: Stakeholder Engagement and Information Disclosure of the ESF.  She recognizes that on-going stakeholder engagement is helpful to good project outcomes.

After participating in the workshops, government environmental and social specialists are keen to spread the word among their colleagues. “Project coordinators, ministries, the political class – they also need to learn about the ESF and to come on board,” said Emmanuel in Accra.  Rita Ohene Sarfo, Chief Engineer at Ghana’s Highway Authority said: “I am planning to have a half-day workshop for my management to explain to them what these new standards are.”  For the Bank, these positive reactions from the workshop participants are especially encouraging, because client countries will be critical partners in implementing the new Framework and making it a success.