Name: Rachel Kyte
Country of Residence: USA (Washington D.C.)
Current Position: Vice President of Sustainable Development, World Bank
How did you get to the role you are in today and what advice would you give aspiring earth champions?
20 years ago I started my career in civil society and youth politics in Europe, working on environmental issues which brought young people together. I therefore became heavily involved in the first Earth Summit and from there went on to run WEDO, working on women’s health, human rights and environment issues. I then decided I wanted to try and change things from the inside and went on to work for a big international NGO (IUCN), which had status and was part of key conversations. I was then recruited by the World Bank as an ombudsperson to mediate disputes where private sector investments had led to conflict with local communities. And it was from there that I moved to the management side of operations at the organisation.
Some sound advice I was given when I was younger, was when you are faced with a fork in the road and have to make a decision, you should always follow your heart and make the courageous choice.
How can more finance be leveraged for the implementation of sustainable development at the national level?
Compared to 20 years ago, we now have domestic capital markets in the majority of countries. Even the poorest nations have banks which can invest in microfinance. It is no longer a case for countries or communities to rely on financial support from donors in order to develop and grow. In fact, today most investment flows are actually South-South in direction. When you look at all the potential sources of finance available, money isn’t actually the problem, rather it is ensuring that it is invested in the right things and in the right way. This of course includes subsidies which are limiting our ability to grow in a greener way.
What do you believe should be achieved at Rio+20?
Sustainable development is as relevant today as when it was first coined. The dilemma is that we’ve made real progress in some areas but not in others, and the achievements we have made are now imperilled by the lack of sustainability in the economic system. Rio can therefore really help with the demystification of what more inclusive and greener growth means. The pathway to sustainable development differs for every country, however, there are things that each nation can do straight after Rio to make their economy greener and more inclusive. But, for us to make different decisions, or make decisions differently, we need an alternative data-set on the table for all government departments to base policies upon. We therefore encourage as many countries as possible to use Rio as an opportunity to commit to start using natural capital accounts alongside GDP.
What’s the World Bank’s vision for sustainable development over the next 20 years?
Economic growth can become much more efficient and supportive of the ecosystems that we depend upon. We need markets that value ecosystem services, enabling the generation of resources to allow countries to invest in the things they need to grow greener and more inclusively. We will not be able to be sustainable if inequity continues to rise within countries, even if equity is increasing between countries. We already know a lot of what we need to do. We need to attack each bad subsidy and inefficiency systematically, country by country. It’s essential to take action now. Time is not on our side. Climate change is an accelerant, making everything more difficult to do, and so the future of development is building the resilience of natural systems, countries, cities and communities. Therefore as a development institution, everything we do now is about resilience and adaptation.
What is the call to action?
Even if global consensus is illusive, it doesn’t stop those who want to move ahead from doing so. Coalitions of the willing can and do work. It is this kind of leadership which is vital both at Rio and after Rio. We need to inspire the new generation of people that don’t remember the first Summit, and show that collective action from likeminded actors can produce results and move us forward.