Engaging with the private sector for greater impact

December 10, 2020

Senior Private Sector Specialist


Two people shaking hands
The GEF's new private sector engagement strategy seeks to create investment opportunities that tackle the drivers of environmental degradation and deliver global environmental benefits with a systems-level impact. Photo: Flamingo Images/Shutterstock

Since the landmark Paris Agreement of 2015, there has been a dramatic increase in private sector interest and action related to climate change. In just five years, hundreds of companies have set targets to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and have outlined science-informed plans to achieve them.

As governments worldwide eye setting new biodiversity and conservation targets next year, we are seeing a similar increase in the number of companies aiming to set ambitious, science-informed, short and mid-term environmental goals that contribute to biodiversity recovery in the coming decades.

At the same time, the lessons of the COVID-19 pandemic and its origins have further reinforced for corporate strategists and investors the need to take environmental concerns seriously – a vindication of business leaders who have been increasingly advocating that resilient and sustainable business will outperform the market and deliver greater value to stakeholders as well as shareholders.

This increased sensibility has created an important opportunity for the Global Environment Facility and its partners, who are working together to turn commitments into action with tangible, lasting, results where they are most needed.

The GEF is a partnership of 184 member governments, working in close collaboration with civil society organizations, local communities, and the private sector toward shared goals for the global environment. Through our new private sector engagement strategy, endorsed by the 59th GEF Council, we are seeking to strengthen these ties and create opportunities for the private sector to invest in tackling the drivers of environmental degradation and delivering global environmental benefits with a systems-level impact.

The new strategy recognizes that working with a few companies, or with discrete sectors in value chains, is not going to be enough to support change at the necessary scale. To move the needle on complex challenges such as climate change, marine plastics, and biodiversity loss we will require a new approach based on partnership and collaboration across typical boundaries.

A critical way to achieve this will be through multi-stakeholder platforms – avenues where we can bring key actors across government, communities, investors, and civil society together with business leaders and project managers to tackle common goals in an integrated way.

These coalitions are central to the GEF’s private sector engagement strategy looking forward, as a way to bring about systemic change that shift markets and create opportunities to build back better and greener from the current economic crisis. Successful examples to date include the Good Growth Partnership, the Food Land Use and Restoration Impact Program, the Sustainable Cities Impact Program, planetGOLD, and the Global Plastic Action Partnership – all platforms that have made great strides with GEF support.

The GEF supports these and other platforms in our role as:

An initiator - Supporting pilot projects and initiatives that have commercial potential for upscaling and for transformation at a broader scale. GEF interventions can involve technical assistance, grants, and/or blended finance.

A catalyzer - Fostering existing projects and initiatives that have demonstrated potential to scale up, out, and deep. As a catalyst, the GEF can assist in providing additional resources and crowding-in additional private sector partners to support larger scale project development.

A facilitator - Supporting the conditions that can foster the creation of a forum, bring together key parties, build institutional capacity, and leverage existing networks.

The GEF will also foster collaboration between and among its 18 accredited agencies to support private sector engagement plans in line with country priorities and projects.

Through our extensive consultations and engagements over the last year, including with business leaders participating in the GEF Private Sector Advisory Group, we have made a conscious effort to be inclusive in our approach and cover a wide variety of sectors. As we go forward we will strive to further engage smallholder farmers, small and medium-sized companies, indigenous peoples, and civil society groups who play an important role delivering environmental benefits in the countries where the GEF supports programs and projects.

The private sector engagement work ahead will also continue to be underpinned by the GEF’s policies, safeguards, and guidelines related to risk management, gender equity, fiduciary standards, and stakeholder engagement, giving both GEF partners and the private sector the confidence to work together in a safe, pre-competitive environment. Partnership is at the core of how the Global Environment Facility operates and will continue to drive our approach as we seek to engage with a larger constellation of private sector leaders in the coming period.

There is much to look forward to in the year ahead, and we invite companies of all sizes and sectors to join us and add their voice to the important items on the 2021 agenda so that we can truly co-create a better world.