Much achieved,
more to do

Claire Short assesses the GEF’s achievements and suggests priorities for its second decade

The GEF is a unique partnership, bringing together the World Bank, the United Nations Development Programme and UNEP. It is a blend of the best of the Bretton Woods institutions and the United Nations system. From the start, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have had an active role in shaping the GEF and working with it in a variety of ways, making it probably the most open and transparent public organization. The GEF has also shown its ability to be flexible by bringing new agencies into the partnership, such as the regional development banks and the Food and Agriculture Organization. Its governance structure of 32 constituencies on the Council, with an equal share for developed and developing countries, enables decisions to be made with a minimum of fuss and without any long speeches. Its worth has been recognized by the international community through three successful replenishments, and by an expansion of its traditional activities so that it now deals also with the problems of persistent organic pollutants and the global impacts of land degradation.

Important story
So what has the GEF achieved on the ground? The financial statistics tell an important story. Since its formation in 1991 the GEF has committed (as at end June 2002) some $4 billion, and disbursed about $1.4 billion. Most funding has gone to combating climate change and protecting biodiversity, with commitments of $1.4 and $1.5 billion respectively. In terms of regional commitments, $770 million (20 per cent) has gone to Africa, $1.1 billion (28 per cent) to Asia and $900 million (23 per cent) to Latin America. But these direct commitments are only a small part of the story. Independent evidence suggests that for every dollar the GEF invests, it levers in three times as much from other sources. The latest estimate is $12.4 billion extra in co-financing. Although this last figure is impressive, more still needs to be done in this area, particularly in deepening cooperation with the private sector.

As important as the financial figures are, they are less important than the realization of the institution in its early stages that environmental problems and issues could not be dealt with in isolation. The underlying causes of environmental degradation often relate to inappropriate economic and social policies, an inadequate legal framework, institutional weakness and poor public awareness. Therefore the GEF has moved away from financing isolated projects, and has begun constructive policy dialogue with a number of its major partners, so that lending is given in stages, dependent on agreed performance criteria being met. Over time, this will improve the sustainability of the GEF’s operations and its environmental impact.
Some of the most innovative approaches have been in promoting renewable energy
Some of the most innovative approaches of the GEF have been in promoting renewable energy and energy efficiency by increasing demand so it becomes more attractive for the private sector to develop and sell such technologies. Examples are in the development of off-grid solar photovoltaic systems for rural electrification in Kenya, Sri Lanka, Viet Nam and Peru; biogas power from sewage treatment plants or landfills in India and Jordan; wind power in India; and bagasse-based power in Mauritius. Most notably, commercialization in Brazil of an efficient new biomass power technology from both sugar cane and woodchips from plantations of rapidly growing trees inspired the development of a similar plant in Yorkshire in the United Kingdom. The ultimate aim of all these new technologies is of course to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, thereby slowing the pace of climate change.

Intense activity
Biodiversity conservation has been an area of intense activity for the GEF, but one where results have been slower to become evident. This is partly because of the inherent complexity of the problem. However, the GEF has been instrumental in moving away from purely conservation activities to an approach that emphasizes the sustainable use of biodiversity. This is consistent with my own view that for environment to be effectively integrated with development, we must look at how the environment can be used sustainably for the benefit of poor people. This was the essence of the new operational programme dealing with integrated ecosystem management.

As noted above, the GEF has always encouraged broad participation in its projects. An effective instrument in this regard has been the Small Grants Programme, where small, strategically targeted projects can contribute to solving global environmental problems while enhancing the security of livelihoods of poor people. The programme has received strong support from relevant government agencies, academic institutions, NGOs, local governments and community groups. Since one of the keys to more effective environmental performance is the level of public awareness in the community, the programme provides valuable examples of what can be achieved, and improves the chances of such activities being sustainable.

What are the priorities the GEF should address as it moves towards its second decade? I suggest there are three:

  • More emphasis on the policies that can influence the integration of global environmental issues into normal government programmes, backed up by lending and the building up of appropriate domestic institutional capacity.

  • Strengthening its catalytic role, through mainstreaming, co-financing and, particularly, the replication of successful activities on a much larger scale.

  • Much increased cooperation with the private sector to pioneer commercial approaches to delivering environmental benefits through developing and expanding effective market demand in developing countries.

The United Kingdom has always been a strong supporter of the GEF. Since its inception we have provided £215 million ($330 million). During the third replenishment we will provide a further £118 million ($180 million), including a voluntary contribution of £15 million ($23 million), which is additional to that which we should provide under normal international burden-sharing arrangements. We will continue to work with the Secretariat and fellow Council members to encourage the priorities I have set out

Claire Short is the UK Secretary of State for International Development.

PHOTOGRAPH: Silvana Tarelho/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
Tony Blair: Opportunity, not obstacle (Climate and Action) 1998
John Prescott: Gain, not pain (The Environment Millennium) 2000
John Prescott: Seven threats to the seven seas (Oceans) 1998
Robin Cook: Everything to gain (Climate Change) 1997
Clare Short: Tackling water poverty (Poverty, Health and the Environment) 2001
Michael Meacher: A Stronger Conscience (Looking Forward) 1999
Margaret Beckett: Recapturing momentum (WSSD) 2002

AAAS Atlas of Population and Environment: