Energizing change

OUR PLANET 9.6 - Climate and Action

Energizing change


describes the GEF's work to combat climate change

industryOver the last two years more than 16,000 people have been killed worldwide by the weather and, according to one estimate, nearly $50 billion in damage has been done. Communities around the world have seen their lives disrupted, crops destroyed and homes swept away. Nine of the last 11 years were among the warmest recorded, 1997 was the hottest year ever, and each of the first seven months of 1998 was the warmest in 140 years.

The facts are clear. Many of the world's major media have reached a conclusion similar to that of the conservative Chicago Tribune: 'prudence and common sense - and mounting scientific evidence - tug at us ever more insistently, suggesting that warnings about global warming must be taken seriously' and that 'realistic plans' should be made.

Since its creation in 1991, the Global Environment Facility (GEF) has committed over $725 million to nearly 200 projects in 49 nations in concrete action to combat climate change. Its activities are implemented by UNEP, the United Nations Development Programme and the World Bank. Some examples from GEF's three operational programmes:

Removing barriers to energy efficiency and conservation. Cost-saving technologies are not readily adopted because of such barriers as high initial costs and lack of public awareness. A $5 million GEF programme has helped the private sector develop a market for energy-efficient light bulbs in Poland which has resulted in large power savings and reduced emissions from coal-fired generation plants. Here, as in other countries, the success of attempts to manage energy demand is strongly linked to effective awareness and information campaigns: non-governmental organizations play a key role. The GEF is also supporting energy efficiency programmes in Brazil, Bulgaria, Chile, China, Côte d'Ivoire, Egypt, Jamaica, Mexico, Russia, Senegal, Syrian Arab Republic, Thailand and other countries.

Promoting the adoption of renewable energy by removing barriers and reducing implementation costs. GEF has formed a partnership with the Philippine National Oil Company and the National Power Corporation to construct a geothermal plant instead of a coal-fired plant. GEF contributed $30 million to the $1.3 billion project to pay the incremental cost of transmitting electricity produced by the plant to the national grid.

More than 10 projects - including a $7 million initiative in Zimbabwe - are expanding the rural use of photovoltaics, assessing the technology and how it is promoted, and providing a model for other countries. Funds are used for market development, including training installers and creating standards and public awareness. Some projects - such as the Indonesia Solar Home Project, the largest in the world - include subsidies (usually declining to zero over several years) to build market volume and create initial demand. Long-term success, once GEF funding is completed, will depend on strong local responses.


Reducing the long-term costs of low greenhouse gas-emitting energy technologies. GEF is working with the Brazilian Ministry of Science and Technology and private Brazilian companies to commercialize an environmentally friendly technology that generates electricity from wood chips from plantation forests. Its $40 million investment in the project has leveraged an additional $82 million from its partners. Like other projects involving fuel cell buses and solar thermal power plants, it supports a technology of particular promise to developing nations.

GEF also funds projects designed to have a demonstrable short-term and inexpensive impact on greenhouse gas emissions, even if they are not part of an operational programme. A $10 million GEF project in China has successfully demonstrated technologies that reduce methane emissions associated with coal mining and recover the gas for use as a fuel. Several exploration and development agreements for joint ventures have been signed with international investors as a result, and more are under active negotiation.

In every case the policy framework and enabling environment are extremely important if alternative energy and more energy-efficient products and technologies are to be successfully adopted and replicated. Thus engaging stakeholders - governments, communities, non-governmental organizations, the scientific community and the private sector - in designing projects is essential.

In Argentina - host to the Fourth Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change - GEF is supporting a new $13.5 million component of a $2.2 billion World Bank project to promote renewable energy in rural markets. As part of a strategic rural electrification programme, it is substituting solar energy, wind power, and mini-hydro schemes for diesel generators, normally the cheapest alternative. The project will involve private investors and power developers - as well as Argentina's National Rural Electrification Laboratory - to supply power to over 130,000 rural households and about 4,400 public services, including schools and medical centres.

Much of the discussion at the Conference is expected to focus on emission trading and the Clean Development Mechanism envisioned in the Kyoto Protocol. Developing countries are looking to this Mechanism for the infusion of funds they need to finance alternative energy strategies for sustainable development; developed country expectations centre on opportunities to trade emission rights. Achieving an outcome acceptable to all will not be simple. But future generations will benefit from the Convention's leadership in recognizing a real and present danger and cooperating to safeguard the planet. As always, the GEF stands ready to play its part.

Mohamed T. El-Ashry is CEO and Chairman of the Global Environment Facility.

Complementary articles in other issues:
Issue on Climate Change 1997

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