Global environmental benefits through local action: the GEF
MOHAMED T. EL-ASHRY
describes the GEF's work to
as the only option for achieving socially
environmentally sustainable development
The first GEF Assembly comes at a pivotal time. As last
year drew to a close, people the world over gained a deeper appreciation of our economic and environmental interdependence. Starting in Asia's newly industrialized nations, falling stock markets followed the sun, producing record declines in Japan, Europe, and the Americas. In Southeast Asia, forest fires raged
for weeks, spreading smoke across six countries and adversely affecting the health of more than 70 million people. And in Kyoto, negotiators worked into the early morning hours to forge a consensus on the Earth's climate future.Interdependence means that all of us, whatever the stage of our development, are travelling in the same boat, floating and sinking together. Building a sturdier vessel benefits all passengers. Since the Earth Summit in Rio in 1992, we have seen some progress in dealing with global environment and development concerns. Countries have negotiated, signed and ratified international agreements to address climate change, biodiversity and desertification. They have developed or refined national environmental action plans and incorporated environmental impact assessment into their decision-making about economic development. Multilateral and bilateral development assistance institutions have formulated agendas for sustainable development and have significantly increased their environmental lending.
The international community took bold steps in Geneva in 1994 to establish a major fund for the global environment. The GEF moved from being an experimental pilot programme, set up in 1991, to a permanent entity for global environmental protection.
The GEF is a unique arrangement that does not create a new bureaucracy. It represents the first strategic alliance between Bretton Woods and United Nations institutions. While it has its independent governance, secretariat and operational strategy, it relies on the World Bank, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and UNEP to implement its projects and activities at the country level.
The GEF's brief is to make the connection between local and global environmental challenges and between national and international resources in the areas of climate change, biodiversity conservation, ozone depletion, international waters protection and land degradation. The GEF currently provides funding for projects in 119 developing countries and economies in transition. The GEF operates the financial mechanism for the Convention on Biological Diversity and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. I think it is fair to say that, without the GEF, these two international treaties would be gathering dust like some others that lacked financial provision for implementation.
Restructured and replenished with a $2 billion trust fund, the GEF has now authorized more than $1.9 billion in grants, while leveraging more than
$5 billion from other sources. Because $2 billion or even $10 billion cannot solve the problems of the global environment, we continue to focus
our programmes, streamline operations, build new investment partnerships with bilateral and multilateral institutions and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and tap private sector resources. In this way, we can multiply our high-value grant resources many times over.
But the GEF is more than a channel for project financing. It helps support global environmental security by integrating the global environment
into national development, facilitating the transfer of environmentally sound technology and knowledge and, crucially, strengthening the capacity of developing countries to play their full part in protecting the global environment. It also serves to mainstream the global environment into the agendas of international development institutions.
The GEF is also working hard to strengthen partnerships between governments and NGOs. Almost one-third of GEF project ideas submitted by governments come from non-governmental and community-based groups, and 20 per cent of all GEF finance involves NGOs in design, planning and/or implementation.
Local, national and global environmental problems have the same underlying causes - inadequate economic policies, inadequate development policies and practices, and inadequate policies concerning natural resources and the environment. The challenge in dealing with the complex nexus of global environment and development is to reform these policies and to bring environmental considerations into the mainstream of economic decision-making; and whenever possible, to strive towards producing joint domestic and global benefits. This challenge can best be addressed through sustainable development actions at the country level.
That is where we operate - as a partner with governments, with bilateral and multilateral agencies, and with NGOs and the private sector, pooling our resources with theirs to add a global dimension to initiatives for sustainable development.
Conventional wisdom tells us that climate change is primarily a product of industrial development - of greenhouse gases pouring out of smokestacks and exhaust pipes in the urban centres of North America, Europe and Asia. Conventional wisdom is not entirely wrong and it is essential for the great cities and great industries of the planet to improve energy use efficiency and switch as widely and as rapidly as possible from carbon-based fuels to clean, renewable, alternative sources of energy. But it is no less urgent to provide non-polluting sources of energy to satisfy the rapidly growing demand in developing countries and for the 2 billion rural people who now live without access to electrical power of any kind.
That is why you will find the GEF in a partnership with UNDP to expand technology in Zimbabwe. That pilot project involves outlays of only $7 million, but along with follow-on efforts in Ghana and Uganda, it is meant to serve as a model for ways to bring reliable, clean energy to hundreds of villages in Africa. And much the same approach underlies a $74 million effort in Indonesia, where the GEF and the World Bank are collaborating to encourage private sector delivery of the largest single photovoltaic solar home system project in the world. The 200,000 solar home project forms a central component of the Government's off-grid electrification strategy.
Those projects are examples of sustainable development that will benefit both local economies and the global environment. Solar energy that enables poor farmers to pump water to their fields and to their homes, to light their village schools and hospitals, and to replace fuelwood in their cooking fires makes a difference at the planetary level of greenhouse-gas emissions. It also makes a huge difference to the quality of life and the ability of hundreds of millions of people to manage other natural resources in a sustainable manner.
Biological diversity is another busy intersection of global and local priorities. Land and water degradation rank high among the root causes of poverty, and - in the vicious circle of cause and effect - poverty is a powerful force that pushes farmers onto marginal land, into forests, and into unsustainable agricultural practices. The loss of species - often crucial ingredients of agricultural productivity - is a by-product of this destructive, self-reinforcing pressure, and those losses can be as damaging to the global ecology as they are to the immediate ecosystems.
The GEF has supported two complementary approaches, both of which focus on engaging rural people as efficient resource managers. One strategy involves straightforward reforestation efforts in protected areas of Mauritius, Bhutan and Nepal. It provides employment along with conservation, as does an innovative project in Ethiopia to help dryland farmers practise in-situ conservation of genetically precious strains of wheat and barley.
Ecological enterprise zones
Another effort seeks to turn the buffer zones along the perimeters of national parks in Zimbabwe, Uganda and Indonesia, for example, into what might be called ecological enterprise zones, areas where the inhabitants can make a new and reliable living as stewards of the wild flora and fauna of the region. These projects incorporate the economic stimulus of ecotourism with programmes to use sustainably as well as to conserve valuable species. The hope is to score a double dividend - protecting biodiversity reserves of global significance while providing a steady source of income for local inhabitants.
In the search for environmentally and socially sustainable development, the problems that we all confront continue to grow. However, our financial resources do not. Partnership-building is our only option, and it is one the GEF has been actively pursuing within individual countries and among neighbouring ones. For instance, in India, a five-year, $74 million Ecodevelopment Project, in partnership with the Government of India and the World Bank, will be pulling local communities, national institutions and NGOs into collaborative action at eight threatened priority sites where haphazard development endangers biodiversity and where rural livelihood can be effectively integrated with conservation.
With the International Finance Corporation (IFC) as the main partner, a biodiversity enterprise fund of up to $30 million is to mobilize private equity investments in several Latin American countries to advance sustainable agriculture, develop the use of underutilized species and pursue the possibilities of extracting non-timber products from forests and wild lands. In Central America, seed money from the GEF and the Multilateral Investment Fund of the Inter-American Development Bank will help create a $100 million regional fund for sustainable development and conservation.
Never has the time for international cooperation to every nation's individual benefit been more ripe. Earth's 21st century can provide answers to many of the questions that plague us in the 20th. As the new millennium approaches, with the support and involvement of the community of nations, the GEF will continue to look for new opportunities to add value to and for the global environment.
Mohamed T. El-Ashry is Chief Executive Officer and Chairman
of the GEF.