Keeping the GEF on its toes

OUR PLANET 9.4 - Fresh Water

Keeping the GEF on its toes


describes the work of the Scientific and Technical
Advisory Panel under his chairmanship, and
calls on UNEP to take a greater role in the GEF

Many actions taken to safeguard the global environment are based on only a partial understanding of underlying societal and biogeochemical processes. So it was decided that the GEF should have a Scientific and Technical Advisory Panel (STAP). This supplied the scientific and technological basis for the overall direction of the GEF in its pilot phase and under GEF 1, starting in 1994, it provided the underpinning of the Operational Strategy and the programmes and projects. Its job is to keep the GEF on its toes.The GEF is facing a growing and increasingly competitive set of demands and expectations. Implementing the Operational Strategy meets the simultaneous challenges of being efficient and effective and of being accountable under GEF procedures. I believe that much can still be done to improve the use of GEF funds in mainstreaming the activities of the implementing agencies and other important international organizations for development and environment.

UNEP has an important part to play in assisting this mainstreaming exercise, and its role in the GEF should be increased. From my experience of GEF projects there is ample room for scientific, technical and strategic input and tools in implementing the global environmental conventions.

The implementation of STAP's recommendations requires additional efforts and reorientation from both the implementing agencies and the countries calling for GEF support. Sustainable development is not a clearly defined path, so experiments and learning by experience must play an important part in the GEF's portfolio, as should monitoring, evaluation and the dissemination of information.

STAP's mandate has five major elements:

- Providing strategic advice to support the development and implementation of the GEF strategy, programmes and projects.

- Developing and maintaining the Roster of Experts, a list of about 400 scientists and technological experts who are leaders in the GEF's relevant fields. Each project is reviewed by at least one of them.

- Doing a selective review of special GEF projects either at the request of the Council or on its own initiative.

- Cooperating and coordinating with the scientific and technical bodies of the conventions in clarifying relevant scientific and technical issues.

- Providing a forum for communication and cooperation with the wider scientific and technical community on relevant issues.

Over the last few years it has given advice in reports on:

- Sustainable use of biodiversity, clarifying the issue and strengthening the GEF project portfolio.

- Climate change issues and GEF involvement in the fields of transport, coal, renewable energy, adaptation to climate change and technology transfer.

- International waters, stressing the need to provide a scientific basis for GEF activities in this field through a Global International Waters Assessment (GIWA).

- Land degradation and how to strengthen the GEF portfolio in this field.

- Targeted research to improve the effectiveness of GEF projects and programmes.

Sustainable use of biodiversity

STAP developed a set of project concepts and recommendations, through a series of papers on the economic, social and ecological aspects of sustainable use and an international workshop held in Malaysia. One of its major findings was that sustainable use does require a paradigm shift in many of the organizations involved in biodiversity protection.

Present efforts to protect biodiversity mainly rely on external capital, whether from non-governmental organizations, central governments or organizations like the GEF. But a sustainable use approach requires skills (especially on the interaction of socio-economic and ecological systems), shared values and goals, incentives and institution building. Local stakeholders, including the private sector, must be involved in all stages of developing and implementing projects. Capacity-building and staff training is essential at all levels and in all organizations involved in this work.

Another recommendation, emerging from analyzing case studies, is that 'global benefits through replication' should be the slogan of sustainable use projects.

Replicability and the related global benefits should be an important criterion for GEF support. Existing incentives at local, national and international level often promote unsustainable use. New schemes can be developed through experimentation and innovation which will help to remove barriers and create the incentives and institutions required.

The present GEF process for allocating and disbursing money for projects is often frustrating efforts in the field. From case studies it has become clear that the nature and the timing of financial support is more crucial than the volume. It takes at least five to ten years to set up and gain sufficient experience with sustainable use projects. They are generally about the development of new practices in using biological resources and new ways of generating livelihoods. Building institutions and generating trust are essential.


There is a consensus that the GEF should enter this field, given the major role of transport in emitting greenhouse gases. STAP brought together leading experts in a workshop in Nairobi in March 1997 in order to provide the scientific and technological basis for a GEF operational programme. STAP identifies three important areas.

One is to support integrated transport planning and associated needs for information. The GEF should particularly consider supporting pilot initiatives for developing sustainable transport plans that deal simultaneously with greenhouse gases and local concerns.

The second area is institutional innovation that engenders long-term commitment and consensus. Pilot initiatives in institutional reform, which address barriers to implementing sustainable transport plans, should be considered for GEF support.

The third and final domain where GEF could make an important contribution is in building technological assessment and absorption capability and supporting demonstration initiatives. This is particularly needed for sustainable transport technology scoping and assessment programmes and transport management projects - and especially those that ensure that available technologies and policy options are adapted first, before resorting to more advanced or complex measures. STAP advises the GEF to support the establishment of appropriate research agencies and technology institutions that can adapt options that mitigate greenhouse gas emissions. Finally, innovative pilot financing schemes, demonstration projects and market development support for small vehicles and buses and electric trains must be considered for GEF support.

Technology transfer and innovation

STAP's most recent advice is on technology transfer in the field of energy, and it is particularly relevant in the light of the Kyoto Protocol. Through literature review, case study analysis and a final workshop it again identified three priority areas for consideration by the GEF.

One is capacity-building. National capacities must be strengthened to assess, select, import or develop, manage, adapt or replicate appropriate innovative energy technologies.

The second is addressing the private sector. Major roles for private sector activities should be facilitated. Coherent policies aimed at unleashing the industrial dynamism of the 'virtuous cycle' of innovation, market growth and price decreases for the new technologies are needed. Encouraging a transparent and competitive environment is vital if the private sector is to play an effective role. The GEF should also consider assisting countries to build up systems that ensure equitable user-supplier agreements and appropriate financial modalities.

The third priority area is research and development. This is needed to enhance the prospects of innovative energy technologies conforming to local needs. International collaborative efforts would be efficient and ensure sustainability. Potential conflicts over intellectual property rights should be resolved so as to maximize the prospects for diffusing technology.

Global International Waters Assessment (GIWA)

STAP continuously argued that the lack of an International Waters Assessment (comparable to the Global Biodiversity Assessment, the Stratospheric Ozone Assessment, and the assessments of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) was seriously impeding GEF's development of the International Waters focal area. But it recommended that it should not copy these, but take a more bottom-up approach starting with the regions. An important part of the GIWA should be an assessment of the capability of current scientific knowledge to predict the effects of GEF projects.

Land degradation

STAP made a major effort in providing the GEF implementing agencies with guidelines and project concepts in this field. This aimed to stimulate the development of land degradation projects that deliver global benefits in the field of biodiversity, climate change and international waters. A major workshop was held in Dakar in 1996 and generated additional GEF projects in the field. But more is possible. Under GEF 2, STAP will get involved in carbon sequestration: a thorough analysis of options to enhance the sinks for carbon is expected to have a positive spin-off for GEF efforts aimed at combating land degradation.

Targeted research

The GEF must analyze and review existing ways of doing things and explore innovative ways of meeting its goals. Only then will it continuously improve the effectiveness of its projects and programmes and adjust to changes in needs and priorities defined by the convention bodies.

In 1997 the GEF approved the STAP strategy paper on targeted research, and so can now identify information needs and research so as to improve the quality and effectiveness of the development and implementation of its projects and programmes. STAP is ready for upstream involvement in the identification of targeted research needs.

The role of UNEP in the GEF can be strengthened to the benefit of all the countries and organizations involved. The existence of an informed scientific and policy community that has the tools and methodologies available to mainstream global concerns into daily investment decisions is the major prerequisite for sustainable development. UNEP can do much to meet this condition

Pier Vellinga is Director of the Institute for Environmental Studies of the Vrije Universiteit at Amsterdam, The Netherlands

The activities of STAP and its advice to the GEF are described more extensively in the special report of STAP issued on the occasion of the GEF Assembly in New Delhi in April 1998. More can be found in Highlights of the work of STAP during GEF 1 (1995-1998) (available at the STAP Secretariat in UNEP, Nairobi).

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