for change

Mark Malloch Brown gives practical examples of effective and innovative projects to save the global environment

Since its formation at the Earth Summit in Rio ten years ago, the Global Environment Facility (GEF) has become the world’s largest multilateral sponsor of projects to save the global environment. In its role as an implementing agency, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) responded early on by assembling a team of top technical experts, engaging professionals in our 133 Country Offices and offering to manage the GEF Small Grants Programme. Now, 220 large and medium-sized GEF-UNDP projects are bringing together partnerships that double the amount of GEF resources being applied to state-of-the-art initiatives in every region of the world.

In our approach at UNDP, we understand that local poor people typically suffer the most from ecosystem decline since they are the most directly dependent upon ecosystems for their immediate survival. Making local people and organizations part of the project design and implementation process is a unifying theme of all UNDP’s GEF initiatives. A quick look at just a few of these projects gives a glimpse of their variety, their effectiveness and their innovation in addressing international waters, climate change, biodiversity and, often at the same time, land degradation.

Ecosystem restoration
Let us start with the Danube River/Black Sea basin, which has been overwhelmed by excess levels of nutrients from agricultural run-off, and industrial and municipal wastewater discharges. Outbreaks of waterborne diseases such as cholera, beach closures due to poor coastal water quality, and a decline in the number of fish species from 26 to 6, costs billions of dollars in lost income every year. Now, thanks to a major GEF-UNDP international waters project, the Governments of Bulgaria, Georgia, Romania, Russia, Turkey, Ukraine and their ten upstream neighbours in the basin have joined forces to restore the Black Sea ecosystem. These countries have developed and ratified international conventions including the Black Sea Convention and the Danube River Protection Convention. The Black Sea Strategic Action Programme flows from them and contains 59 specific commitments to reduce pollution, improve living resources management, encourage sustainable development and improve financing for environmental projects. In adopting this plan, the Black Sea governments have committed themselves to a process of profound reform in the manner in which environmental issues are addressed throughout the basin.

Shifting gears to climate change, diesel buses provide the most important mode of motorized transport in the mega-cities of developing countries, but they are also serious contributors to local air pollution and the accumulation of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Now, a major GEF-UNDP climate change project is in the process of putting fuel-cell buses that run on hydrogen and emit only distilled water into regular revenue service in six cities around the world. In China, UNDP implemented a very successful climate change project that introduced technologies that turn the enormous amounts of methane – a potent greenhouse gas released during coal mining – into a new, clean-burning energy source. The GEF project triggered private-sector investments of over $300 million, and improved both the local air quality and the safety of coal miners.

Land and biodiversity
Another innovative project shows how mitigating climate change can also reduce land degradation and improve biodiversity values. In the Sudan, rangelands cover 60 per cent of the land and support one of the largest concentrations of livestock in Africa – upon which half of the nomadic population depends for their survival. These rangelands and their biodiversity have been degraded by cyclical droughts, arid cultivation and the depletion of forest cover for fuelwood. UNDP’s GEF climate change project in the Sudan is empowering local people with the resources necessary to rehabilitate their rangelands. This will sequester carbon and improve conditions for local livestock, particularly those raised by women and the poor. The project invests in the capabilities of the communities themselves – management of resources and monitoring was left to the people – while private assets are being engaged through the development of individual grazing allotments. The project’s local context has encouraged the reproduction of activities among neighbouring communities.
Local poor people typically suffer the most from ecosystem decline since they are the most directly dependent on ecosystems
Although it forms the foundation of food security, biodiversity is under siege in many if not most developing countries of the world. Along Argentina’s Patagonian coast, UNDP implemented a GEF biodiversity project for developing a comprehensive coastal zone management plan in partnership with a local non-governmental organization. While the most immediate beneficiaries are the local people who depend on the coastal resources for their livelihoods, the Patagonian ecosystem extends far out into international waters, and the project also helps preserve the health of natural resources far beyond Argentina’s shores. GEF-UNDP also has a very interesting biodiversity project in the area where some of the highest mountain ranges in the world – the Karakoram, Hindu Kush and Western Himalayas – meet in northern Pakistan at elevations above 8,000 metres. To reverse the degradation of high pastures and forest stands, the project is focusing on ecological landscape management at large spatial scales that protects a representative sample of biomes through the creation of four Conservancies spanning an area of some 16,300 square kilometres. Local communities are planning and implementing conservation activities: profits from sustainable use options, such as ecotourism, trophy hunting, small game-bird harvest, and non-timber forest products, are being invested and interest income re-distributed for community services.

I am also very proud of the GEF Small Grants Programme (SGP), which is implemented by UNDP and provides grants of up to $50,000 directly to non-governmental and community-based organizations. To date, the SGP has funded over 3,400 projects in 63 countries to conserve and restore the natural world while enhancing local well-being and livelihoods. UNDP is committed to raising matching funds that cover the Programme’s baseline costs, which are estimated at about 50 per cent of the total costs of programme activities. In the process, the SGP has brought over 600 partner organizations worldwide to the table, including significant contributions by the United Nations Foundation, the European Commission, and the Governments of Denmark and The Netherlands.

Country dialogue
UNDP also implements the GEF Country Dialogue Workshop Programme, a strategically important joint initiative of the GEF Secretariat, UNDP, UNEP and the World Bank. Thirty-five workshops have been conducted worldwide, with UNDP working closely with governments to involve a diversity of stakeholders reflecting all sectors in government and civil society.

As the financial mechanism of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Convention on Biological Diversity, the GEF has shown that developing countries can not only abide by these Conventions but, in some cases, can lead the way toward a sustainable future. To help developing countries meet their obligations under these Conventions, UNDP implements over 100 GEF ‘Enabling Activity’ projects, and GEF-UNDP manages a unit dedicated to supporting national efforts to respond to the UNFCCC. The GEF now stands ready to support other international environmental conventions, including the Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants and the Convention to Combat Desertification. These Conventions frame the scene for international cooperation, and UNDP in partnership with the GEF brings the resources, know-how and local participation that are vital to protecting the atmosphere, water and agro-ecosystems that support all the citizens of developed and developing countries alike

Mark Malloch Brown is the Administrator, United Nations Development Programme.

PHOTOGRAPH: K. Songuuattana/UNEP/Topham

This issue:
Contents | Editorial K. Toepfer | Unmatched opportunities | Global priority | Partnerships for change | Rising to new challenges | Much achieved, more to do | Message to the Second GEF Assembly | Africa Environment Outlook | Critical energy | Mapping the health of the planet | Regaining ground | Two to tango | Linking knowledge to action | Globalizing benefits | Unpopular POPs | Message to the Second GEF Assembly

Complementary articles in other issues:
Special supplement to coincide with the Global
Environment Facility Assembly
(Fresh Water) 1998
Mark Malloch Brown: Empowering the poor (The Environment Millennium) 2000
Alcira Kreimer and Margaret Arnold: The poor suffer most (Disasters) 2001

AAAS Atlas of Population and Environment:
About the AAAS Atlas of Population and Environment

AAAS Atlas of Population and Environment: