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Integrated programming in the Global Environment Facility: Learning from the GEF-6 IAP programs

September 1, 2021

Lead Environmental Specialist


Rice and wheat farmer tending to his crop in Nigeria
Photo: Resilient Food Systems/Flickr

Integrated programming was a key component of the GEF-6 replenishment cycle and a priority for implementation of the GEF 2020 strategy. The focus was on supporting recipient countries to tackle major drivers of environmental degradation in a holistic manner, while ensuring that progress in any dimension of the global environment does not negatively affect other related objectives. By advancing the integrated approach, GEF financing also fosters coherence and promotes synergy in generating multiple global environmental benefits.

Three Integrated Approach Pilot (IAP) programs were launched to introduce this new dimension of programming, which emphasized “integration” as a key organizing principle for GEF financing. The three programs, namely Good Growth Partnership (led by the United Nations Development Program) Resilient Food Systems (led by the International Fund for Agricultural Development), and Sustainable Cities (led by the World Bank Group), were each structured around major drivers of environmental degradation: commodity-driven deforestation, smallholder agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa, and urbanization, respectively.

During their design, each program embodied several key underlying principles for advancing the integrated approach. These include demonstrating added value of the GEF, demonstrating additionality of the program, creating institutional frameworks for stakeholder engagement, dealing with complexity, achieving results by promoting systemic shifts, and leveraging the private sector. In addition, the programs also took into consideration two important GEF priorities: gender mainstreaming to account for differences in needs, roles, and responsibilities, and opportunities for equal engagement of women and men; and systems resilience in the context of drivers being tackled through each program.

The three programs together are being delivered through 31 discrete projects involving 25 recipient countries, and account for about $283 million in GEF grants and $3.46 billion in co-financing. Each program is being coordinated by a Lead GEF Agency, with a dedicated child coordination project for program-level governance and oversight, knowledge exchange and learning, and for monitoring and reporting.

In January 2020 when all of the projects were close to or past mid-term in their implementation, the GEF Secretariat and the three lead agencies (IFAD, UNDP, and World Bank) initiated a joint learning exercise to identify and synthesize emerging lessons and experiences. The focus was on understanding progress made with the integrated approach, based on the key principles and priorities of the GEF. Findings from the learning exercise were synthesized and presented as follows:

  1. Separate reports for each IAP program (Sustainable Cities, Commodities, Food Securities) highlighting experiences and lessons from advancing the integrated approach to tackle the drivers of environmental degradation specific to each program, including challenges and opportunities for future GEF programming.
  2. A report on the overall approach to program governance, including organizational structure and operational modalities for achieving coherence within the programs and linking externally to other entities and initiatives.
  3. A report outlining experience with key cross-cutting priorities, specifically gender mainstreaming, integrating systems resilience, stakeholder engagement, leveraging the private sector, and knowledge management and learning
  4. A report summarizing the findings presented in the other five reports described above.

Overall finding suggests that the IAP programs are generating useful lessons on opportunities and challenges for tackling drivers of environmental degradation through the integrated approach. The programs have each created “platforms” or “hubs” for multi-stakeholder dialogue, knowledge exchange, and learning to advance the integrated approach. While each program highlighted institutional and resource constraints, these platforms are playing a crucial role in connecting diverse stakeholders to promote collective action and scale-up innovative practices.

The COVID-19 pandemic has reinforced the urgency to transform key economic systems that are sources and drivers of global environmental degradation. Although much remains to be achieved, the experiences and emerging lessons from the IAP programs highlight opportunities for influencing systems transformation and impactful outcomes through integrated programming. The GEF-7 Impact Programs (IPs) are already harnessing the lessons and experiences to further advance the integrated approach for transformative change.

The recent OPS7 Formative Evaluation reinforced the importance of integrated programming for the GEF, and highlighted the need for strengthening program-level coordination, monitoring, and reporting. It is therefore expected that the integrated programming will further evolve in GEF-8 as a strategic approach for advancing systems transformation, and to maximize potential for impactful outcomes for a green and blue recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.