By Ms. Nosipho Ngcaba, Director-General of the Department of Environmental Affairs and GEF Political Focal Point
South Africa boasts an abundant supply of natural resources and ranks as the third most mega-biodiverse country in the world. Nevertheless, there is a need to balance economic and other development goals with that of environmental sustainability for the benefit of present and future generations.
The GEF has been the key multilateral environmental financing mechanism supporting developing countries in addressing global environmental benefits and promoting sustainable development. South Africa submitted its instrument of participation in the GEF in 1994, and participates in the GEF Council. It hosted the GEF Assembly in 2006 and participated in the fourth, fifth and sixth replenishment meetings.
Since becoming a member of the GEF, South Africa has developed a portfolio of 97 national and regional projects worth USD 821.70 million in GEF funding, with co-financing amounting to USD 4.74 billion. Its first GEF project, “the Table Mountain conservation project”, was approved in 1997 and attracted USD 12 million in GEF funding. Resources made available by the GEF have enabled South Africa to implement projects that protect the integrity of the environment while stimulating economic and social development.
The GEF Small Grants Programme (SGP) has operated in South Africa for over 20 years and its contribution and impact in addressing a plethora of environment and development challenges has been immense. It is, as the former National Coordinator of the SGP in South Africa has indicated, “rooted in the belief that global environmental problems can best be addressed if local people take ownership and there are direct community benefits”. Since 2001, it has invested over USD 3.7 million in the country, with similar levels of co-financing leveraged for over 90 community projects. It has ensured linkages between global, national and local issues through a transparent, participatory and country-driven approach to project planning, design and implementation - and recognizes the need to work in partnership with other organisations.
The programme focuses on all dimensions of sustainable development and contributes - in line with the National Development Plan - to addressing the country's triple challenges of poverty, unemployment and inequality, and their underlying causes. GEF projects generally bring together partners, realising that environmental concerns cannot adequately be addressed until social and development challenges are dealt with.
Country allocations in the climate change, biodiversity and land degradation focal areas have enabled the government to adopt a focused approach to addressing the challenges of environmental degradation as they impact development.
The Department of Environmental Affairs, as the GEF focal point for South Africa, has adopted a transparent and consultative programming approach, including “prioritization workshops” where all interested stakeholders jointly plan and agree on how comprehensively to address environmental challenges. Our programming process is informed by the vision outlined in the National Development Plan and other important statutes developed by the Department to govern sustainable use of our natural resources, including the National Environment Management Act. The multilateral environmental agreements, for which the GEF is a financial mechanism, are also considered in programming resources. Capacity building is a critical element of GEF projects in South Africa, due to country's history of inadequate building up skills among the previously disadvantaged groups, and it ensures the sustainability of the projects beyond GEF funding.