A shared interest

OUR PLANET 9.4 - Fresh Water

A shared interest

KLAUS Toepfer

reaffirms that sustainable development does not
place artificial limits on economic growth,
provided that growth is both economically
and environmentally sustainable

The establishment of the GEF originated in two simple questions: how to provide grants and concessional financing for global environmental programmes without diminishing current funding for development cooperation? And how to find 'new and additional financial resources' to assist the transition to sustainable development in developing countries?As the Minister of Environment of Germany at that time, it was my privilege to have been closely associated with the idea of the establishment of the GEF. Even as the lengthy negotiations on Financial Resources and Mechanisms at the Earth Summit in Rio dragged on, it was clear that these two fundamental questions would raise many others: what critical environmental issues should the Facility address? What should be its system of governance? How could the principle of 'balanced and equitable representation' in the membership be translated into actuality?

At Rio, the case for an innovative, international financial institution was compelling. A more rounded concept of development - sustainable development - emerged from the discussions at the Earth Summit. Economic development must be related to the ways in which the natural base limits and creates opportunities for human activities. Three aspects of this definition of development were particularly important. First, it has implications for all countries, rich and poor. Second, it presupposes new directions for growth and development, not their cessation. And third, it incorporates the environmental dimension. Sustainable development does not place artificial limits on economic growth, provided that growth is both economically and environmentally sustainable. There was also an acknowledgement of the fact that all nations had a shared interest in protecting the global environment and a responsibility for domestic actions that affected the environment of other nations and the planet as a whole.

Peace had a new name in Rio. The Earth Summit had validated the essential indivisibility of environment, peace and development. It recognized that global interdependence could no longer be perceived only in economic terms. The root causes of global insecurity were now seen to reach far deeper than the calculus of military parity. They were seen as being related to the instability spawned by widespread poverty, squalor, hunger, disease, illiteracy and degradation of the environment. Clearly, efforts to promote global security would now have to be underpinned by efforts to promote a kind of development that was not only sustainable, but also participatory and equitable.

women gardening

Areas of concern

The GEF was recognized as a means of operationalizing Agenda 21 by providing funding to developing countries and those with economies in transition for projects and activities that targeted global benefits in one or more of four focal areas - biological diversity, climate change, international waters and the ozone layer. Activities concerning land degradation, primarily those addressing desertification and deforestation, as they relate to the focal areas, are also eligible for GEF funding.

The governance structure of the GEF comprised the best of the institutions involved - the United Nations bodies concerned with the environment and development activities and the Bretton Woods institutions. Its governance was expanded to include representatives of developing countries on its governing council and its meetings were thrown open to non-governmental observers. Many of the small-grant programme projects of the GEF were to be proposed at the community level and would not have to be approved by national governments before receiving funding.

Each implementing agency contributes its particular expertise to GEF operations. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is primarily responsible for implementing technical assistance and capacity-building programmes through its network of 133 offices worldwide. The World Bank helps to develop and implement investment projects. It also seeks to mobilize resources from the private sector. UNEP has a mission to set the global environmental agenda, promote the coherent implementation of the environmental dimension of sustainable development within the United Nations system, and to serve as an authoritative advocate for the global environment. UNEP uses GEF resources to support the global dialogue in the focal areas and to develop innovative mechanisms for the international community.

Measuring success

UNEP cannot measure its success in the field of the environment by its share of financial resources for implementing GEF projects, but rather by the implementation of its mandate assisted by GEF support.

There is some tangible progress in this direction. The GEF is the designated interim financial mechanism for the Conferences of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Its Scientific and Technical Advisory Panel, for which UNEP is providing the secretariat, has built complementary linkages with the Scientific and Technical Subsidiary Bodies of these Conventions, which were signed in Rio. It is expected that similar complementarities will soon be formed with the newly established Committee on Science and Technology of the International Convention to Combat Desertification.


The potential of the GEF is great. Although insignificant in comparison to financial flows through capital markets, the GEF could make its mark by assisting UNEP in focusing on the integration - the interlinkages - rather than the sectoral fragmentation of air, water, and land and inducing real policy changes. As issues of the deteriorating urban environment gain urgency, the GEF must broaden its environmental agenda by integrating within it urban environmental questions.

As the General Assembly of the GEF prepares to meet in New Delhi, let me take this opportunity to thank the donor community for its generous contributions to the GEF. I hope that it will continue to offer the financial support the GEF deserves to achieve its goals.

I would also like to take this opportunity to reflect on the significance of UNEP's 25th anniversary. The celebration last year of this important event coincided with the adoption of the Nairobi Declaration, which contained elements of the focused mandate of a revitalized UNEP for the 21st century. In addressing the challenges of its second phase, the GEF should expect a renewed and strengthened contribution from UNEP.

Klaus Toepfer is Executive Director of UNEP and Under-Secretary General of the United Nations.

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