GEF and the Convention on Biological Diversity

October 20, 2016

A "nepenthes" plant, it's common name is a "tropical pitcher plant"

by Braulio Ferreira de Souza Dias, Executive Secretary, Convention on Biological Diversity

Ever since 1996, when the Global Environment Facility (GEF) was accepted by the Conference of the Parties (COP) of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD)  as the institutional structure to operate the financial mechanism of the Convention,  the GEF has provided essential support to Parties. The reports received from the GEF on its activities to support biodiversity over the past twenty years provide a significant track record not just of the substantial contributions made by the GEF to support the implementation of the Convention and its Protocols, and to sustainable development more generally, but also of its evolution over time.

A significant and increasing source of funding

According to the first report received, the GEF approved a biodiversity project portfolio with a combined financing of US$65.27 between July 1994 and June 1995. In its latest report, to the twelfth meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP 12), the total GEF resources provided to implement biodiversity projects had risen to US$242 million annually between July 2012 and June 2014. Even taking into account inflation, this represents a noticeable increase in the level of funding to biodiversity over the past twenty years.

Based on the GEF project database at the end of May 2016, the financial mechanism has provided financial support to 1,115 national projects in the biodiversity focal area, with a total grant of US$2.7 billion and co-financing of US$8.8 billion. An additional amount of US$0.7 billion, with co-financing of US$1.4 billion, went to 178 regional and global projects.

As a result, most, if not all, major biodiversity initiatives over the past twenty years, from the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment to the Global Invasive Species Programme, have benefited from resources from the GEF. An increasing number of biomes of significant global importance, from the Amazon forest through Borneo to the Congo Basin, have witnessed the results of financial support made available through the financial mechanism.

A solid bridge between global commons and national priorities

While the CBD, along with the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020 and associated Aichi Biodiversity Targets, establishes a global framework for action on biodiversity,   it is the implementation by Parties, in accordance with their circumstances and conditions, which are necessary to achieve these globally-agreed objectives, goals and targets, and the associated global benefits. Financial resources from the GEF have contributed to ensuring that national actions translate to global benefits.   Over the past twenty years, the financial mechanism has approved 375 national, as well as 9 regional and global enabling activities projects in the biodiversity focal area.  Most national biodiversity strategies and action plans (NBSAPs) have been developed and revised with funding support from the financial mechanism. The successful entry into force of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety and the Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilization is another testament for the important enabling role of the financial mechanism.

National reporting is the primary tool for the Parties to the CBD to receive feedback on the status of implementation, and examine and review the progress made in achieving agreed global priorities.  With financial support from the GEF, the CBD Secretariat has received 179 fourth and 181 fifth national reports, close to a universal submission considering that some countries joined the CBD recently and others face internal conflicts. The information received from Parties has been used in the formulation of the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020 and its Aichi Biodiversity Targets, the globally agreed framework to conserve, restore and sustainably use biodiversity and enhance its benefits for people. It has also been used in the preparation of the CBD’s flagship report, the Global Biodiversity Outlook, the latest issue of which provides a global assessment of progress made in achieving the Aichi Targets, based on revised NBSAPs and fifth national reports, which was updated for the first meeting of the Subsidiary Body on Implementation.   

Harnessing opportunities for global environmental synergies

The GEF is a multi-convention financial mechanism,   and is thus uniquely positioned to identify opportunities to finance the multiple objectives of the global environmental conventions that it supports in a holistic and synergistic manner.   The GEF has increasingly used innovative approaches to focus on multi-focal area financing and integrated projects. 

The multi-convention approach has already generated significant benefits to biodiversity, and holds promise for further upscaling. According to the recent reports from the financial mechanism, in addition to the implementation of work in the biodiversity focal area, most projects under the focal areas of international waters and land degradation also address direct drivers and underlying causes of biodiversity loss, while the funding under the focal areas of climate change and chemicals also respond to several Aichi Targets of the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020. The importance of such synergies is recognized by the Conference of the Parties to the Convention.  At its twelfth meeting, the COP decided to invite Parties to identify national priorities in support of the implementation of the various biodiversity-related conventions that are aligned with the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020 and with the implementation of the Aichi Biodiversity Targets, and incorporate them into their NBSAPs.  It further invited the governing bodies of the various biodiversity related conventions to provide elements of advice concerning the funding of pertinent activities, to be shared with the GEF.

Towards transformational change in financing

Starting with a limited number of implementation partners – the World Bank, the United Nations Development Programme and the United Nations Environment Programme, the GEF has over the years evolved into a substantial network of agencies, which now includes four major regional development banks, United Nations development system organizations, and selected international environmental organizations.  In 2011, the GEF Council approved Agency Minimum Standards on Environmental and Social Safeguards and a Gender Mainstreaming Policy, and started to assess the GEF agencies as to whether they met the requirements of both policies. All GEF partner agencies are expected to meet the criteria for Minimum Standard 1 (Environmental and Social Impact Assessment) and Minimum Standard 2 (Natural Habitats), as well as on a case-by-case basis, Minimum Standards 3 (Involuntary Resettlement), 4 (Indigenous Peoples), 5 (Pest Management), 6 (Physical Cultural Resources), and 7 (Safety of Dams).  The policy on environmental and social safeguards has also been extended to new agencies, such as subregional development banks and national partner agencies. 

The GEF as a partner for the future

With 25 years of operational experience behind it, the GEF has truly come of age. It has become stronger, both institutionally and strategically. There is no doubt that, given more resources, the GEF will be able to play an even greater role in supporting the implementation of the Convention and its Protocols.   On this celebratory occasion, I know that I am not alone in saluting its many achievements and wishing it many more years of being at the forefront of tackling the world’s most pressing environmental problems.