Scientists tell us that the biophysical processes that determine the stability and resilience of Earth, our “planetary boundaries” that allowed our societies to thrive during the past 10,000 years, are being pushed to their limit.  Evidence is mounting that the miraculously, favourable Earth conditions that scientist call the Holocene– the only ones we know can support a human population of 7.4 billion and more – risk coming to an end.

We are at a defining moment for the future of our planet and its peoples.

Urban areas will play a critical role in achieving sustainable development and combating climate change. Many cities have already taken bold steps to reduce their environmental footprint, and have often been able to do so much more quickly and pro-actively than their national governments.
Based on the premise that greener cities are the key to a more sustainable future, the World Bank and the Global Environment Facility launched the new Global Platform for Sustainable Cities (GPSC) earlier this month in Singapore. The new platform will help mobilize funding for urban sustainability programs, while also facilitating knowledge exchange between cities.
Thanks to this innovative approach that closely connects finance to knowledge, the GPSC will be uniquely positioned to make cities the driving force of sustainable development.

By EDE IJJASZ-VASQUEZ, Senior Director for the Social, Urban, Rural and Resilience Global Practice, World Bank

On March 3rd, there are so many ways to celebrate World Wildlife Day 2016. One can go to the zoo and take pictures with elephants, organize a wildlife photo exhibition, participate in a street parade, host an art contest, organize a panel discussion or a film screening, and maybe even release captive animals into the wild.

It is critical to recognize that all too often women experience the impacts of climate change differently than men. Women are often affected disproportionately due to gender inequalities. They also constitute the majority of the world’s poor and are more dependent for their livelihood on natural resources that are threatened by climate change. When a woman’s access to financial resources, land, education, health and other rights and opportunities is limited, her capacity for coping with and adapting to climate change suffers as well.

January 13, 2016 - At last month’s landmark Paris Conference, world leaders committed to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change.

The historic agreement is a major boost for efforts to spur investment towards a low carbon, resilient and sustainable future.  But, delivering on the promise of Paris will not be easy for many reasons.  Here is one.

Three major socio-economic trends could exacerbate global environment degradation and significantly increase greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) in the coming decades:

  1. The projected human population increase that may result in 9 billion people sharing the planet by 2050, along with a growth in the global middle class from under 2 billion today to around 5 billion by 2030;
  2. The rising demand for food, energy, and water; and
  3. The rapid pace of urbanization, with global urban population expected to rise to 60 percent by 2030, mostly in Asia and Africa. Already, cities account for some 70% of all GHG emissions.

The good news is there is a way forward.

In Paris, the potential of new, scaled-up, integrated approaches to tackle these and other challenges was a major highlight of activities on the margins of the negotiations. The business community turned out in full force to showcase new technologies for increasing energy efficiency and harnessing renewable energy across a wide range of sectors. The agriculture and forests community highlighted a diversity of options for promoting sustainability and resilience in global food production, and for sustainable sourcing of commodities to reduce deforestation. City municipalities and networks showed off new ways of embracing urbanization to create smarter cities as hubs of environmental sustainability. Going forward, the interest and commitment expressed by this diversity of actors can be greatly leveraged for integrated and systemic actions to promote transformational change.

In its role as financial mechanism of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and several other multi-lateral environmental agreements, the Global Environment Facility is already helping to advance integrated approaches for sustainability and resilience. At the core of this effort are three new Integrated Approach Pilot programs or IAPs– Fostering Sustainability and Resilience for Food Security in Sub-Saharan Africa, Taking Deforestation out of Commodity Supply Chains and Sustainable Cities.  

The future of all life on Earth depends on how we manage the interdependencies between environment and development.


Fostering Sustainability and Resilience for Food Security in Sub-Saharan Africa

Twelve African countries  - Burkina Faso, Burundi, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Swaziland, Tanzania and Uganda , all located in the dryland regions where the threat of environmental degradation and food insecurity is greatest, are participating in the GEF program on food security. The program promotes multi-stakeholder frameworks at national and regional levels to increase focus on sustainability and resilience. By promoting the integrated management of natural resources in smallholder agriculture, the program helps farmers strengthen soil health, improve access to drought-tolerant seeds, and maintain or increase diversity on their farms. This will contribute to bring 10 million hectares of production landscapes under improved and sustainable practices, and mitigate 10-20 million metric tonnes of CO2e emission.

Taking Deforestation out of Commodity Supply Chains

The program on commodity supply chains focuses on soy, beef and palm oil, which together account for about 80% of the approximately 7.6 million hectares of tropical forest that are lost every year – an area roughly the size of the Czech Republic. In major producer countries there are already a number of initiatives underway that promotes the sustainable production of these commodities. The GEF approach is to link such efforts with the work of governments and other sectors along the entire global supply chains, strengthening the engagement of the wide range of stakeholders involved, from smallholder farmers to global corporations. Instead of treating production-side and demand-side interventions as separate tracks, the program promotes a holistic approach that encompasses the entire commodity supply chains. This will bring an estimated 23 million hectares of land under sustainable management practices and mitigate 80 million tonnes CO2e of GHG emissions. 

Sustainable Cities

The sustainable cities program is an ambitious attempt to promote urban sustainability by addressing the growing demand for innovative tools and knowledge to help city municipalities and local governments make informed decisions. The program will initially engage 23 cities in 11 developing countries (Brazil, China, Cote d’Ivoire, India, Malaysia, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru, Senegal, South Africa and Viet Nam). Initiatives such as the Compact of Mayors, C40 Large Cities Climate Leadership Group, and the International Council for Environmental Initiatives’ Cities for Climate Protection are already playing an important role in helping address needs for designing cities of the future. The program builds on these initiatives and promotes the integration of environmental sustainability in urban planning and management initiatives.  It is estimated that it will contribute towards avoiding more than 100 million metric tonnes of CO2e emissions.

These programs offer only a glimpse of how complementarity and synergy can be advanced in seeking multiple environmental benefits, including climate change mitigation and adaptation. In line with the Sustainable Development Goals, there are clear opportunities to broaden the scope and application of integrated approaches for greater transformational impact in the years ahead.

History has taught us that sector by sector or issue by issue approaches alone do not change the status quo or reverse trends. Rather, innovative solutions based on holistic and integrated thinking are needed to harness synergies, manage negative tradeoffs, and increase potential for impact at scale. Such thinking acknowledges the multi-disciplinary nature of both threats to the global environment and the solutions to them. 


A Blog by Mohamed Bakarr, Lead Environmental Specialist, Global Environment Facility


Below I am attaching an abridged version of President Obama’s speech at the United Nations yesterday, during the occasion of the MDGs Summit. I also append a couple of paragraphs from a World Bank blog posting submitted by Axel van Trotsenburg (Vice President for Concessional Finance and Global Partnerships), who co-chaired with Monique Barbut the replenishment negotiations for the GEF-5 cycle.

Interestingly, both President Obama’s remarks and those of the GEF trustee converge around many of the reforms approved in the context of the recent replenishment, which in turn will orient GEF’s investments over the next 4 years. I would highlight the focus on results and impact – which for us will mean looking carefully at the highest priority requests coming from GEF recipient countries for their reach and overall fit with national development plans. President Obama recognizes that recipient countries need to be at the drivers’ seat if aid is going to succeed (“the days when your development was dictated by foreign capitals must come to an end”). He also calls for transformational change and for an approach that can progressively walk us through the route of ceasing development dependency as opposed to perpetuating it. Of course, this is a vision that can only be pursued at a scale of decades. At the same time, we must strive to see what the end of this road would look like.

With the commitments made by donor countries to multilateral mechanisms over the last 2-3 years, GEF included, the international aid system is now mostly dry. GEF’s replenishment was pushed over the finish line by arguably the last tail wind that aid for the environment will experience for quite awhile. This means that our investments will be under the microscope. And with certain donor countries, the game for us is not over – the pledges will have to be cashed throughout the GEF-5 cycle. I note President Obama’s promise to work with congress to honor the commitments by the US government. But I also hear the warning that programs that don’t work should come to an end. Happily, I believe that the implementation of the reforms enacted by the GEF council will conspire to make GEF an increasingly more efficient and effective institution.

Finally, it is healthy to notice the call for less duplication and more cooperation. Fragmentation of international assistance for the global environment needs to be brought under control – as a matter of fact, I haven’t read a single official call for more fragmentation of the current architecture, notwithstanding the recent proliferation of new funds. At the same time, highly networked multilateral mechanisms such as the GEF must strive for continuous efficiency gains and for more accountability. Otherwise, the temptation for the global creature to keep spawning new funds and mechanisms will continue to haunt us all.

Abridged Version of Remarks by President Barack Obama at the Millennium Development Goals Summit, United Nations Headquarters, New York, September 22 2010:

" …. the reality we must face – [is] that if the international community just keeps doing the same things the same way, we may make some modest progress here and there, but we will miss many development goals. .. we must do better…. the old ways will not suffice. That’s why … I called for a new approach to development that unleashes transformational change and allows more people to take control of their own destiny. .., no country wants to be dependent on another, … no proud leader in this room wants to ask for aid.

The United States is changing the way we do business, … we’re changing how we define development. For too long, we’ve measured our efforts by the dollars we spent and the food and medicines that we delivered. But aid alone is not development. Development is helping nations to actually develop -- moving from poverty to prosperity. Our focus on assistance … hasn’t always improved those societies over the long term. [For] the millions of people who have relied on food assistance for decades... [t]hat’s not development, that’s dependence, and it’s a cycle we need to break.

The United States of America has been, and will remain, the global leader in providing assistance. We will not abandon those who depend on us…. We will keep our promises and honor our commitments.

But the purpose of development … is creating the conditions where assistance is no longer needed. We will seek development that is sustainable. …with financial and technical assistance, we’ll help developing countries embrace the clean energy technologies they need to adapt to climate change and pursue low-carbon growth. We will partner with countries that are willing to take the lead. Because the days when your development was dictated by foreign capitals must come to an end.

We’ll work with Congress to better match our investments with the priorities of our partner countries. Guided by the evidence, we will invest in programs that work; we’ll end those that don’t. We need to be big-hearted but also hard-headed in our approach to development.
To my fellow donor nations: Let’s resolve to put an end to hollow promises that are not kept. Let’s move beyond the old, narrow debate over how much money we’re spending, and instead let’s focus on results -- whether we’re actually making improvements in people’s lives. [Let’s] forge a new division of labor for development in the 21st century. It’s a division of labor where, instead of so much duplication and inefficiency, governments and multilaterals and NGOs are all working together. We each do the piece that we do best. Together, we can realize the future that none of us can achieve alone. Together, we can deliver historic leaps in development.

Aid effectiveness = working together, Abridged Version of Commentary by Axel van Trotsenburg (Vice President for Concessional Finance and Global Partnerships, World Bank Group) at the Open Forum Blog of the World Bank on 09/19/2010

"With only five years to go before 2015, we need to find ways to strengthen our impact, maximizing the effectiveness of every scarce aid dollar. That means a strong focus on results, accountability and transparency, and enhancing international partnerships. Results will remain central to everything we do, and we are working to increase transparency and information sharing through open data mapping of results and the launch of a database that tracks aid flows.

While in New York, I'll be reaching out to governments, and not just finance ministers, but also ministers for environment, health, education, and so on. Development is complex, and we all need to work together to find lasting solutions."

A commentary in Nature last week redirects the spotlight to a central question for the environment and development agendas: can efforts to conserve biodiversity also benefit the poor?

There is growing social and ecological evidence suggesting that a large number of opportunities exist globally for projects that protect ecosystems to also benefit people's livelihoods. For example, research by Will Turner and this colleagues at Conservation International shows that water conservation projects could aid poverty alleviation. But not all agree.

Bill Adams from the University of Cambridge, an often harsh commentator of efforts to protect biodiversity, is of the opinion that poverty alleviation must take precedence over biodiversity considerations, while admitting that we should continue to strive to pursue both wherever we can.

My own particular reading of the evidence base is that there are plenty of opportunities for both objectives to be brought closer together. The nagging question then becomes: if it is quite conceivable being able to protect biodiveristy in context of poverty alleviation, why aren't we producing more successful experiences?

Poor project planning, inadequate siting of the interventions from both social and economic standpoints, and careless implementation are perhaps behind the mixed track record of the combined approach.

These limiations were often featured in the now infamous ICDPs - Integrated Conservation and Development Projects - that many young professionals at GEF may have never heard of. What this all means is that the verdict is still out. The GEF is a great laboratory to learn from, particularly in the GEF-5 cycle, given that we will be striving to produce benefits across multiple focal areas.