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Get smarter: A world of development data in your pocket!

Nagaraja Rao Harshadeep's picture
Many dinner conversations and friendly debates proceed in a data vacuum: “The problem is big… very big!” How big exactly? Most likely your friend has no idea. 

It is often said that we live in a new data age. Institutions such as the Bank, UN agencies, NASA, ESA, universities and others have deluged us with an overwhelming amount of new data obtained painstakingly from countries and surveys or observed by the increasing number of eyes in the sky. We have modern tools such as mobile phones that are more powerful than old mainframes I used to use in my university days. You can be in rural Malawi and still have access to decent 3G data networks.
Open data for sustainable development

Why we can’t afford to ignore agricultural risk

Stephen P. D’Alessandro's picture
Climate smart farming practices in Senegal.
Climate-smart farming practices in Senegal. Photo: M. Tall/CCAFS

Launching on September 25, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will call for no less than an end to poverty, hunger and malnutrition by 2030. This is welcome news--and for the nearly 800 million people worldwide who will go to bed hungry-- long overdue.

To get there, it’s not just about raising yields. It’s also about managing risks to protect the most vulnerable. Along with gains in productivity, we also need more resilient agricultural systems. Failing this, unmanaged risks will upend the road to 2030. Climate change only ups the ante with promise of increasing weather extremes and new and more virulent pest and disease outbreaks. 

There is no planet B

Paula Caballero's picture
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Zanizbar, Tanzania. Photo by Sonu Jani / World Bank

At this week's UN Sustainable Development Summit, the world's oceans will be getting the attention they have long deserved -- but not always received. They are the focus of Sustainable Development Goal 14: "Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas, and marine resources for sustainable development."

The inclusion of oceans for the first time in the international-development agenda illustrates the ambitious and holistic view of challenges and solutions that nations are embracing. With the SDGs, nations are calling for a future in which nature is managed to drive economies, enhance well-being and sustain lives -- whether in Washington or Nairobi, on land or sea.

Fifteen years ago, nations convened at the UN and created an unprecedented set of guideposts, the Millennium Development Goals. In that timespan, the number of people living in extreme poverty was more than halved. But the oceans were not part of those goals. We now have the opportunity to focus minds globally on restoring healthy oceans for resilient economies and thriving communities. 

This attention comes not a moment too soon.

Old fuel for a new future: the potential of wood energy

Paula Caballero's picture
A woman buying a clean cookstove in Tanzania. Klas Sander / World Bank

The use of wood energy – including firewood and charcoal – is largely considered an option of last resort. It evokes time-consuming wood collection, health hazards and small-scale fuel used by poor families in rural areas where there are no other energy alternatives.

And to a certain extent this picture is accurate. A study by the Alliance for Clean Cookstoves found that women in India spend the equivalent of two weeks every year collecting firewood, which they use to cook and heat their homes. Indoor air pollution caused by the smoke from burning firewood is known to lead to severe health problems: the WHO estimates 4.3 million deaths a year worldwide attributed to diseases associated with cooking and heating with solid fuels. Incomplete combustion creates short-lived climate pollutants, which also act as powerful agents of climate change.

But wood is a valuable source of energy for many of the 2.9 billion people worldwide who lack access to clean cooking facilities, including in major cities. It fuels many industries, from brickmaking and metal processing in the Congo Basin to steel and iron production in Brazil.  

In fact, the value of charcoal production in Africa was estimated at more than $8 billion in 2007, creating livelihoods for about seven million women and men, and catering to a rapidly growing urban demand. From this standpoint, wood energy makes up an enterprise of industrial scale. 

So, instead of disregarding wood energy as outdated, we must think of the economic, social and environmental benefits that would derive from modernizing its use. After all, wood energy is still one of the most widespread renewable fuels at our disposal. We already have the technological know-how to enhance the sustainability of wood energy value chains. Across the European Union’s 28 member states, wood and solid biofuels produced through “modern” methods accounted for nearly half of total primary energy from renewables in 2012.

Clean energy, not coal, is the solution to poverty

Rachel Kyte's picture
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 Dana Smillie / World Bank

It is the development conundrum of our era. Extremely poor people cannot lift themselves out of poverty without access to reliable energy. More than a billion people live without power today, denying them opportunities as wide-ranging as running a business, providing light for their children to study, or even cooking meals with ease.

Ending poverty requires confronting climate change, which affects every nation and every person. The populations least able to adapt – those that are the most poor and vulnerable – will be hardest hit, rolling back decades of development work.

How do we achieve the dual goals of expanding energy production for those without power and drastically reducing emissions from sources such as coal that produce carbon dioxide, the primary contributor to climate change?

There is no single answer and we cannot ask poor communities to forego access to energy because the developed world has already put so much carbon pollution in the air.

An array of policies and programs backed with new technology and new thinking can — if combined with political will and financial support — help poor populations get the energy they need while accelerating a worldwide transition to zero net carbon emissions.

Clean air as a poverty reduction priority

Ernesto Sanchez-Triana's picture
​Many parts of the development community have long embraced the following narrative: When nations are young and poor, they are willing to sacrifice natural resources—dirtying their water and their air—to promote economic growth and meet their population’s basic needs. Then, once these nations achieve a certain level of wealth, they become less concerned with accumulating material goods and more concerned with quality-of-life issues, and only at that point are they willing to spend money—or sacrifice growth—for benefits like clean air.

However, a recent resolution by the World Health Organization's (WHO) governing body shows that this narrative is beginning to change. 

What developing countries can learn from Alaska

Ted Chu's picture
The White Pass & Yukon summit train. © Ted Chu

I recently returned from vacation in Alaska, America’s final frontier. This place is massive, twice as big as Texas. It’s so remote that many of the conveniences Americans take for granted simply aren’t available. Prices are high, cell-phone coverage is sparse, and the state capital, Juneau, isn’t even accessible by road. It’s wonderful in summer, but during winter there are only six hours of dim sun.

For the 737,000 people who call Alaska home, life can be a challenge most of the year. The economy relies heavily on energy extraction (80% of state revenue is from petroleum) and the federal government (subsidies and military spending), plus fishing and tourism.

The case for inclusive green growth

Sri Mulyani Indrawati's picture
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Women fishers in Ghana. (Andrea Borgarello/World Bank - TerrAfrica)

Over the last 20 years, economic growth has helped to lift almost a billion people out of extreme poverty. But 1 billion people are still extremely poor. 1.1 billion live without electricity and 2.5 billion people without access to sanitation. For them, growth has not been inclusive enough.

In addition, growth has come at the expense of the environment. While environmental degradation affects everyone, the poor are more vulnerable to violent weather, floods, and a changing climate.

Development experts, policymakers, and institutions like the World Bank have learned a major lesson: If we want to succeed in ending poverty, growth needs to be inclusive and sustainable.

Crowding in Technical and Financial Resources in Support of Forest Landscapes

Paula Caballero's picture
Mexico butterflies by Curt Carnemark / World Bank ​As financing for development talks wrapped up last week in Addis, many conversations revolved around the “how much” as well as on the “how” of achieving universal sustainable and inclusive development in the post 2015 context. Work in the natural resources arena has valuable lessons to offer. 

There is a growing consensus that a new approach is needed to meet the financial needs of developing countries to ensure sustainable, inclusive and resilient growth paths. We all know that Official Development Assistance (ODA) finance is limited and cannot address the massive investment needs of countries. In addition to increased domestic resource mobilization, the more effective engagement of a variety of players, especially from private sector, NGOs, and philanthropic organizations, will be key to close the finance gap.