Françoise Clottes is Director of Strategy and Operations at the Global Environment Facility. In an interview ahead of the first-ever ‘virtual’ GEF Council, happening June 2-3 across 17 time zones, she reflected on the ways government, civil society, GEF agency colleagues, and the GEF Secretariat are staying connected and continuing to support the global environment through the coronavirus shutdown.
The 58th GEF Council meeting in early June will be held entirely online. What will this entail?
The GEF Council is our main governing body and its 32 members meet twice a year. This is the first time since the Global Environment Facility was created nearly three decades ago that this meeting will not take place in-person. Holding the meeting is essential to business continuity for the GEF partnership. With the Council’s approval we hope to proceed with our latest work program – about $650 million of environmental projects and programs that we are aiming to develop with our partner governments and agencies. In turn, these investments will mobilize more than $3 billion in co-financing. The Council will also consider around $55 million of projects supported by the GEF-managed Least Developed Countries Fund (LDCF), which would mobilize more than $250 million for climate resilience projects in some of the poorest parts of the world.
Holding the Council online-only is not a minor challenge. The members represent 32 GEF constituencies located in 17 time zones, from Mexico to New Zealand. The semi-annual meetings normally span three days, preceded by a civil society dialogue on a topic of global environmental interest. Council deliberations are extensive, public and necessary to the process of multilateral decision-making. This time the agenda will focus on a few essential and time-sensitive items. In addition to the work program discussion, it will include the official selection of the next GEF CEO and Chairperson, presentation of the upcoming work program of the Independent Evaluation Office, and budget-related decisions. Civil society representatives have been invited as always to attend the Council, but we will unfortunately not be able to benefit from a civil society dialogue this time around. We are working hard to enable this virtual meeting through individual and system-wide tests across multiple regions in order to ensure it goes as smoothly as possible. We are very much looking forward to the event.
How is the GEF staying connected with its partners in this unusual time?
The GEF is a strong and established partnership spanning 183 countries. It is fair to say that the GEF family entered this crisis period with a great deal of cohesion and the benefit of a global culture. What brings us together is our commitment to a joint mission, shared values, and the complementarity of our respective efforts to generate global environment benefits. Communities, civil society representatives, stakeholders, governments, agencies, and the GEF Secretariat have a long track record of working together to bring to life projects and programs which can address the drivers of global environment degradation.
The GEF community also has substantial experience working across time zones and frontiers, deploying regional and global teams seamlessly and making nimble use of technology in the process. Our project preparation and management processes are entirely online – through the GEF Portal. Partners can access the Portal from anywhere at any time to develop, review, or report on projects. Having these operational systems in place makes it possible for us to follow the life of existing projects and to accompany the preparation of new ones, even in a time of lockdown. We are committed to continuing to support this important work and have thankfully managed to do so in recent weeks.
Another way we are continuing to work together is through online knowledge-sharing and training. There are two excellent e-courses available 24/7 on our GEF Academy platform – the Introduction to the GEF e-Course and the Open Online Course on Gender and Environment. In fact, for two years in a row, the Introduction to the GEF E-Course has been the highest-rated course within the World Bank Group’s online training system and has provided certification to more than 650 long-distanced learners. We are also seeing very good engagement with GEF-supported online knowledge management platforms, such as IW:Learn, which connects government officials, civil society, and other partners working in the international waters space. Thankfully, these digital platforms can keep us close, engaged, and learning even in this time when many are working remotely.
Have the GEF’s operational functions been impacted by the pandemic?
We had to curtail all operational travel for now and our partner agencies face similar restrictions. This has meant, for instance, postponing several face-to-face sessions that we typically hold through our Country Support Program – including expanded constituency workshops, national dialogues, and meetings with civil society and other stakeholders. Where possible, we have met virtually instead, as for instance for our bi-annual retreat with GEF Agencies which happened at the end of March. Doing so helped a great deal to keep an open line of communication across the partnership and to start a discussion on how the disruptions brought about by COVID-19 to countries and agencies’ engagement can be better understood and mitigated. Most GEF agencies are currently linking with country counterparts and assessing the impact of the lockdown on the portfolio of GEF projects and programs that they implement. We will work together to find solutions where needed.
Over these past weeks of remote work, while connecting with colleagues and partners over computer screens and phone lines instead of meeting face-to-face, I have been reminded of how special and resilient the GEF partnership is. I am looking forward to continuing to work together through all available means, throughout and following the current challenges.