Tackling the pollution crisis to support healthier people and planet


In polluted communities around the world, daily life is mired with challenges. 

With nearly 33 million residents, Delhi consistently records one of the world’s highest air pollution levels . The resultant economic consequences on India’s capital city are far-reaching. Families earn less from missed days of work and medical expenses. With reduced worker productivity levels come lower profits for local businesses. In turn, the city and state governments collect less tax, impacting the following year’s budgets for building and maintaining hospitals, public transport and infrastructure, and other essential services. In 2019, this economic loss amounted to 1.08% of Delhi’s state-level GDP.

In addition to these economic effects, pollution causes the premature deaths of more than 9 million people around the world each year. Air pollution alone accounts for 7 million of these deaths – to put this staggering number into perspective, this is equivalent to the number of people that have died from COVID-19 since March 2020 dying each year.  The estimated cost of the health damage caused by air pollution amounts to $8.1 trillion a year, equivalent to 6.1% of global GDP.  Pollution inhibits our ability to lead productive lives.

Pollution is undermining the competitiveness and growth of economies today and setting economies up to fail tomorrow. UNICEF and Pure Earth estimate that 1 in 3 children – or up to 800 million globally – have blood lead levels at or above 5 micrograms per deciliter when any lead disrupts a child’s neurological development and can cause premature death. 

And it’s not just pollution’s impact on economies that is wreaking havoc; pollution is degrading ecosystems on which the wealth of the poor depends, further eroding the ability of communities to get out of poverty.   Air and other pollution lead to acid rain, a newly growing scourge across Asia. This pollutes arable lands and impacts crops. Persistent organic pollutants, heavy metals, and other chemical pollutants that reach the environment enter the food supply, impacting both food safety and food security.

On both land and sea, our habitats and ecosystems become less resilient to climate change in the face of high pollution levels. Plastics pollution is perhaps the most visible example. The unmanaged disposal of plastic destroys biodiversity and pollutes the food chain. Every year, 8 million tons of plastic escape into our oceans from coastal nations, impacting the health of our oceans and the species that inhabit them.  If that isn’t enough to catalyze action, consider this: 8 million tons worth of plastic is the equivalent of placing five garbage bags full of trash on every foot of coastline around the world, according to National Geographic.

Together, the impacts of pollution spell a global crisis. Current linear economies have for too long disconnected the benefits of trade and industrialization from the degradation they leave behind.  The theory behind growing now and cleaning up later has proven vulnerable to the reality of the death, disease, and economic stagnation caused by pollution. Since pollution is a problem for today’s economies and tomorrow’s economic building blocks, inaction is no longer an option. That is why the World Bank is working to clean up pollution today and help cities and countries build a low-pollution, low-emission world in which cleaner air, water, and land build green, resilient, and inclusive economies.

We are supporting countries to:

  1.  Build robust policies, such as through supporting client countries as they negotiate on an international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution. The World Bank Group’s Pathways out of Plastic Pollution report provides good practice guidelines to support countries in their plastic pollution reduction goals.
  2. Build capacity for credible institutions, including stronger ministries of environment that are better able to address the cumulative environmental challenges, but also able to grasp the new opportunities offered by the circular economy. 
  3. Construct the necessary public infrastructure to scale up circular economy approaches, including by strengthening the country’s digital architecture, “greening” public transportation, and investing in nature-based solutions.
  4. Unlock finance, both public and private, including by repurposing subsidies, supporting the SME financial sector ecosystem, and mobilizing international public finance and private capital.

Back in India, encouraging work is well underway. In 2019, the government launched the National Clean Air Program, which aims to improve lives and reduce particulate matter pollution by 30% by 2024. Meanwhile, in Egypt, the World Bank has supported the Government in adopting an integrated approach to tackling pollution, waste and climate change. From improving solid waste management to piloting e-buses and removing harmful fuel subsidies, the Government of Egypt is developing the building blocks for a successful circular economy.

In Indonesia, the Bank has supported the government in meeting its ambitious solid waste management goals and reducing plastic pollution. Our Plastics Policy Simulator allows policymakers to estimate the impacts of various government measures to address plastic pollution on businesses and households. These data-driven tools can help the Indonesian government develop better-informed policy interventions to reduce plastic pollution.

As the world takes strong action to reverse the impacts of climate change and biodiversity loss, tackling the pollution crisis remains of equal importance and urgency. Tackling pollution now will bring benefits today as well as tomorrow – a  World Bank study found that a 20% decrease in PM2.5, a particularly harmful form of air pollution, is associated with a 16% increase in employment growth rate and a 33% increase in labor productivity. 

We can do better. 

Nature’s high returns

The mega-challenges engulfing the world today – from COVID-19 to climate change – have environment_hero.jpghighlighted the interdependencies between people, planet, and the economy.  As we chart a course to reignite global growth and drive green, resilient, and inclusive development, we must not ignore these interlinkages. Nature – meaning biodiversity and the services that healthy ecosystems provide – is central to this endeavor, especially in developing countries, where poor people in rural areas tend to rely heavily on nature’s services and are the most vulnerable to its depletion.

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Annual Campaign: 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence (GBV)

The 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence is an annual internationalGBV campaign from November 25 to December 10, 2022. During this time, individuals and organizations around the world coalesce to call for the prevention and elimination of violence against women and girls.

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Tackling violence against women is essential for economic growth in Central Asia

“Where are all the women?” I asked my team after assuming the duties of the World Bankkazakhstan_women_bazaar.jpg director for Central Asia in July 2021. In my introductory meetings with heads of state, governments, and major cities across the region, I and other World Bank officials were usually the only women in the room.

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World Bank Mobilizes Additional $4.5 billion for Ongoing Assistance to Ukraine

WASHINGTON, November 22, 2022—The World Bank Group today announced an assistance package for Ukraine of $4.5 billion in additional grant financing provided by the United States government. The grant is mobilized under the World Bank’s Public Expenditures for Administrative Capacity Endurance in Ukraine (PEACE) Project, which aims to help the Government of Ukraine sustain essential services and core government functions at the national and regional levels.

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Key drivers of COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy in developing countries

Costa Rica’s Forest Conservation Pays Off

STORY HIGHLIGHTS World-Bank-Climate-Funds-Management-Unit-48050851712-db2b2023b6-b

  • Costa Rica has become the first country in Latin America and the Caribbean to receive payments from the World Bank’s Forest Carbon Partnership Facility for reducing carbon emissions from deforestation and forest degradation—commonly known as REDD+.
  • This first payment – of $16.4 million for independently verified emission reductions — is a milestone for Costa Rica.
  • Results-based climate finance such as payments for emission reductions increasingly is being used to incentivize climate action and help countries achieve their Nationally Determined Contributions to the Paris Agreement.

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Countries Could Cut Emissions by 70% by 2050 and Boost Resilience with Annual Investments of 1.4% of GDP

Braving the Storms: The outlook for East Asia and the Pacific, illustrated

The Russian invasion of Ukraine threatens the uneven recovery of developing East Asia and Pacific (EAP) countries.   The invasion comes on top of the economic distress caused by the lingering COVID-19 pandemic, the financial tightening in the United States, and the pandemic resurgence and the economic slowdown in China. While commodity producers and fiscally solid countries in the region may weather these shocks with less difficulty, these events will dampen the growth prospects of most economies in the region. Overall economic growth is projected to slow to 5 percent in 2022— 0.4 of a percentage point less than expected in October.  If global conditions worsen and national policy responses are weak, growth could ease further.

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Are we ready for the coming spate of debt crises?

Higher inflation. Slower growth. Tightening financial conditions.

In recent weeks, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has exacerbated global economic risks.  There is a fourth element, however, that could make the mix combustible: the high debt of emerging markets and developing economies.

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