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FEATURE STORYDecember 2, 2023

For the Poorest Countries, Climate Action is Development in Action

Guinea Artisanal Fishing

No country is immune to the impacts of climate change, but the world’s poorest countries will bear the greatest burden. Over the last decade, they have been hit by nearly eight times as many natural disasters, compared with three decades ago, resulting in a three-fold increase in economic damage. 

I saw houses collapsing and neighbors struggling to save whatever they could,” said João Fernandes, whose village of Santa Catarina in Sao Tome was flooded by heavy rains. “My house was already tilted to one side, water had invaded, and our belongings were floating. My wife was in the last days of our second pregnancy and could barely move. I just prayed that the house would not collapse and that the weather would improve.”   

For communities like João’s, the climate crisis is urgent. Despite contributing the least to climate change, they are facing changing landscapes that impact lives and livelihoods, stressed natural resources that affect crop yields and food prices, and extreme weather events that are ever more dangerous and devasting. Many have seen recent development gains undermined by climate impacts. Without action, more than 130 million people living in the most vulnerable countries will be pushed into extreme poverty due to climate change by 2030.

That’s why for the World Bank’s global solidarity fund for the world’s 75 poorest countries, climate action is development in action. For the International Development Association (IDA), a focus on climate has been increasing steadily since 2011. The World Bank is the largest source of global climate finance, and IDA’s grants and concessional financing have been instrumental across all broad climate action areas, from helping countries pursue adaptation strategies that ready them for the adverse effects of the changing climate, to building resilience so they are prepared when climate disasters occur, and seizing opportunities to realize a greener future. 

Adaptation and Resilience: Preparing Communities in the Face of Climate Change 

Good adaptation is about long-term, systematic planning for both present-day and future climate risks. Given changing weather patterns, and more frequent and dangerous natural disasters, IDA is helping countries to integrate resilience into their development agendas. Investments that protect, preserve, or rehabilitate coastal zones can be important safeguards against rising sea levels and powerful storms. In places like Bangladesh and West Africa, where thousands of kilometers of coastline are home to millions, IDA is helping to coordinate across sectors, and countries in some cases, to ensure these areas are safe for communities, can support livelihoods for generations to come, and provide a buffer from erosion, saline intrusion, and flooding.

The World Bank


I am part of the families most affected by the floods and mudslides, so we volunteered to be relocated,” said João Fernandes, whose family home was one of the first residences built in safer areas as part of the IDA-supported West Africa Coastal Area project. “I feel very good that my family will be safer.”   

“I saw houses collapsing and neighbors struggling to save whatever they could,” said João Fernandes, whose village of Santa Catarina in Sao Tome was flooded by heavy rains. “My house was already tilted to one side, water had invaded, and our belongings were floating. My wife was in the last days of our second pregnancy and could barely move. I just prayed that the house would not collapse and that the weather would improve.”
João Fernandes

When disaster strikes, resilient infrastructure can minimize the wide-ranging consequences on the livelihoods and well-being of people. In places like the small island developing states of East Asia and the Pacific, which are uniquely exposed to the impacts of climate change, IDA-supported projects like the Pacific Climate Resilient Transport Program are helping to upgrade major infrastructure, like airports and seaports, while the Pacific Safer Schools Program and Pacific Resilience Program are ensuring that schools are safer and stronger for students, and providing evacuation centers to protect lives in emergencies.  

Mitigation: Advancing a Green and Sustainable Future

Despite the fact that IDA countries contribute very little to global emissions, putting in place mitigation strategies like investing in clean energy, forest restoration, and the blue economy approach, can help unlock low-carbon economic growth. 

Developing regional networks for energy infrastructure is one way IDA helps position countries’ energy sectors as engines of green and resilient development. Integration of electricity grids not only improves overall reliability and makes electricity more affordable, but it also makes power generation more sustainable by displacing fossil fuel-generated power with cleaner sources of electricity such as wind, solar, and hydropower. IDA support for the West Africa Power Pool and Regional Emergency Solar Power Intervention Project (RESPITE) are helping countries realize the benefits of integration, while increasing electricity access to millions of existing and prospective consumers in the region, and financing the installation and operation of solar and hydroelectric power capacity.

RESPITE is the beginning of a revolution in energy supply and access,” said His Excellency President Julius Maada Bio, President of Sierra Leone. “We are paying far more for energy now than we were 18 months ago. This regional intervention is much needed in the short term. Today, our countries are taking a bold step in the right direction.”

The World Bank


In countries with rich renewable energy resources—such as hydro, geothermal, wind, and solar—IDA is helping to harness these resources to support economic growth and development. IDA funding is especially vital for countries plagued by fragility, conflict, and violence. In the Central African Republic, the first investment in renewable energy—a new solar park with battery storage—will displace over 90 percent of the energy currently generated by diesel. In Yemen, IDA financing is allowing solar solutions to provide urgently needed electricity to families, public service facilities, and schools. In Somalia, IDA is utilizing its Private Sector Window, to make it possible for a solar hybrid power plant to replace existing diesel generation.

Oceans and forests are hugely important in the battle to mitigate climate change. They act as carbon sinks, absorbing greenhouse gases that trap heat in the atmosphere and contribute to our warming planet. They are also vital to the health and economic development of local communities. IDA-supported projects in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Ethiopia are reversing deforestation and forest degradation, improving soil health, and biodiversity, while also assisting local communities to integrate sustainable farming practices. 

Tsefaye Kidane, a 40-year-old coffee farmer from the Kafa Biosphere Reserve in southwest Ethiopia. Photo: © Kaia Rose/Connect4Climate/World Bank.

An initiative in Mozambique is working across projects to ensure the country’s forests are managed sustainably. While the Pacific Islands Regional Oceanscape Program is helping countries like Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, and Tonga to sustain the vast resources of the surrounding sea by improving fisheries management and diversifying incomes. 

"Here in Kiribati, the ocean is our life…. Our people depend on it. And we have to sustain it for our next generation," says Maaria Henry, who works for a newly established Fisheries Enforcement Unit that is helping to protect domestic fish stocks by ending unsustainable fishing practices and promoting more responsible stewardship.

IDA’s climate finance is helping countries to address climate and development together. Learning from the mistakes of the climate-heavy emissions growth of developed countries, IDA countries are charting a new path for the future by building resilience and sustainability into their agendas, investing in clean and renewable energy, and preserving their natural resources. Not only are these efforts good for the planet, but they are also drivers of economic growth, boosting productivity and creating jobs.


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