Glass globe in the forest
Glass globe in the forest

For its first 30 years, the Global Environment Facility has worked on all environmental fronts to support a productive, resilient planet that benefits human health and well-being. Over the decade to come, these efforts will also include a high-ambition drive to underwrite a clean, resilient, green, and blue recovery from the COVID-19 crisis.

Making that recovery stick and endure is among the ambitious goals of the multilateral trust fund’s next four-year investment cycle, known as GEF-8, which runs from 2022 to 2026, and will also shape the next one, GEF-9, leading to 2030.

To lay the groundwork for these new phases of action with clear, science-based objectives, GEF Chairperson and CEO Carlos Manuel Rodriguez convened a group of more than 400 leading scientists and environmental experts from Feb. 8-11 to share their perspectives on the top priorities and opportunities to seize at a critical moment.

“There is no doubt to me that the COVID-19 recovery is a once in a lifetime opportunity to achieve breakthroughs in how we manage forests, the land, the water, the ocean, how we produce and consume, and even how we live,” Rodriguez told the Technical Advisory Group (TAG) meeting, which was held over Zoom because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

“This decade from now to 2030 is the ultimate make or break time for the environment – this is backed by a lot of very strong scientific information. We need to be able to have countries recover better, greener, bluer, healthier, with more resilience,” he said. “The current trajectories and levels of ambitions are insufficient on many fronts to meet these goals.”

The TAG meetings’ virtual format permitted a much larger gathering than in previous replenishment rounds, with participants in time zones stretching from California, Brazil, India, Australia, and points between.

They included rich discussion on proposed priority themes for the GEF, including the links between environmental and human health; greater opportunities to engage with the private sector, indigenous peoples, and civil society; ways to manage fragmentation between environmental initiatives; and means through which the GEF can influence policy-making in a broad range of areas.

Participants also discussed programming ideas related to biodiversity, blue economies, food security and food systems, decarbonization, sustainable cities, forest biomes, blended finance, national capital approaches, community action, gender equality, marine plastic pollution, greening supply chains, land restoration, green financing, clean green islands, the circular economy, and other cross-cutting topics.

“The biggest single issue that has infused all four days of our deliberations this week was the COVID-19 pandemic. It is the most recent crystallizing crisis, but it is certainly not the last surprise that will occur in the current short decade that will include GEF-8 and GEF-9,” said Rosina Bierbaum, Chair of the GEF Scientific and Technical Advisory Panel (STAP). “We must be on cleaner, greener, bluer, more equitable paths in this decade or else we will reach tipping points in many dimensions – ecologically, economic, and social.”

The TAG experts’ inputs, ideas, and insights helped kick off the GEF-8 replenishment process and will be considered in a programming directions framework for donor governments to consider. The meetings also included representatives of GEF agencies, the STAP, UN Conventions, and Secretariat staff.

Closing the meeting, Rodriguez said that upcoming international agreements and frameworks related to climate change, biodiversity, chemicals and waste, and other areas were tantamount to “a set of blueprints for a sustainable future by 2030 and beyond.”

“If we don’t initiate and take bold action in the next couple of years, we will be beyond the point of no return by 2030. So the GEF and our very strong partnership needs to act in a way that is transformative, and this replenishment process needs to reflect this,” he said.

The first official GEF-8 donor meeting will be held in April.