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GEF and ADB: Working together increases impact and innovation

September 21, 2016

China Terraces
The ADB/GEF partnership has catalyzed significant investments and the adoption of new and innovative approaches

By Nessim J. Ahmad, Deputy Director General, Sustainable Development and Climate Change Department, ADB

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has been eager to work with the GEF since its pilot phase. Initially, its engagement was largely ad hoc through the three GEF Implementing Agencies. Based on this experience, it worked with other regional development banks so that they all obtained direct access as GEF Executing Agencies in 2002. We recognised that working together directly can achieve innovation and greater impact by blending GEF’s catalytic grant resources for the global environment with ADB financing for sustainable development. More than two decades later – as the GEF celebrates its 25th anniversary and ADB its 50th – the premise of this partnership still holds true: about $17 million dollars is leveraged by ADB for every one million provided by the GEF in grants. 

Covering a broad range of environmental, climate change and socio-economic development issues, the ADB/GEF partnership has catalyzed significant investments and the adoption of new and innovative approaches. One priority area has been managing large-scale ecosystems. An early example of this was the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and GEF Partnership on Land Degradation in Dryland Ecosystems, established in 2002, which was among the first to pioneer the programmatic approach later mainstreamed by the GEF. It demonstrated effective methods to address land degradation that affects more than 2.6 million square kilometers in the PRC and helped mainstream integrated ecosystem management practices into relevant policies and development frameworks in the country. The total funding mobilized for sustainable land management through mainstreaming into the PRC’s 11th and 12th 5-year plans has subsequently amounted to $26.8 billion dollars, compared with $840 million invested through the programme.

The Coral Triangle Initiative for Coral Reefs, Fisheries and Food Security is another path breaking programme. Considered to be the “Amazon of the seas”, the Coral Triangle is home to the greatest diversity of coral reefs and marine species anywhere on the planet and supports the livelihoods of 120 million coastal people. ADB and the GEF helped initiate a six-country regional cooperation programme that has since been formalized through a new multi-country regional secretariat, with the continued support of a broad coalition of governments, international NGOs and civil society. It has become a long term programme of regional, national and local action to help strengthen marine protected area management and introduce an ecosystem-based approaches to fisheries.

Low-carbon and climate resilient development has also featured prominently: The ADB/GEF Asian Sustainable Transport and Urban Development Program, which is investing in sustainable mass rapid transit systems in several Asian cities, is one good example. It is expected to avoid about 17 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions and improve local urban air quality, while developing models that can be replicated and scaled up across Asia. At the regional level, ADB, GEF and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) have established a Pilot Climate Technology Network and Financing Center which has since been replicated in other regions. The initiative promotes enabling policies and investments in climate technologies, including partnerships with venture capital funds, public-private partnerships and a marketplace for low-carbon technologies. In the PRC, for example, the project helped the Hunan Innovative Low Carbon Center to launch a new $50 million cleantech venture capital fund to stimulate local climate technology investments. Similar initiatives are now in preparation in other countries.

The scale and complexity of environmental and climate challenges facing countries in Asia and the Pacific continues to grow. The region is an increasing contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, while also being very vulnerable to climate change impacts, which are exacerbating local environmental challenges. Biodiversity is declining faster than in any other part of the world. Air and water pollution continue to increase, with Asian cities having some of the worst air quality levels anywhere. Food, water and energy security are also major concerns. Addressing the interface between global and local environment issues is therefore vital for continuing the progress the region has been making in economic growth and poverty reduction. The Sustainable Development Goals, along with the existing multilateral environmental agreements, provide a powerful framework for country-driven programmes that adopt an integrated approach.

Looking ahead, the GEF has many opportunities to work with the ADB and help us go the “extra mile” to generate global environmental benefits. Building on its work with the GEF and others, ADB has already ramped up its lending for environmentally sustainable growth to $7.06 billion in 2015, exceeding the target of 50% of annual loan and grant projects set by the ADB corporate results framework for 2014-2016. Last year we also announced that we would invest $6 billion annually for climate change mitigation and adaptation by 2020. Exciting new areas for the partnership are likely to present themselves in the context of the next GEF Replenishment, especially if the GEF positions itself on the cutting edge of innovation and change. Building on recent experience, further development of integrated approaches and large-scale transformational programmes is certainly needed and these can be further developed as platforms for significant investments by ADB, the GEF and other partners.