Below I am attaching an abridged version of President Obama’s speech at the United Nations yesterday, during the occasion of the MDGs Summit. I also append a couple of paragraphs from a World Bank blog posting submitted by Axel van Trotsenburg (Vice President for Concessional Finance and Global Partnerships), who co-chaired with Monique Barbut the replenishment negotiations for the GEF-5 cycle.

Interestingly, both President Obama’s remarks and those of the GEF trustee converge around many of the reforms approved in the context of the recent replenishment, which in turn will orient GEF’s investments over the next 4 years. I would highlight the focus on results and impact – which for us will mean looking carefully at the highest priority requests coming from GEF recipient countries for their reach and overall fit with national development plans. President Obama recognizes that recipient countries need to be at the drivers’ seat if aid is going to succeed (“the days when your development was dictated by foreign capitals must come to an end”). He also calls for transformational change and for an approach that can progressively walk us through the route of ceasing development dependency as opposed to perpetuating it. Of course, this is a vision that can only be pursued at a scale of decades. At the same time, we must strive to see what the end of this road would look like.

With the commitments made by donor countries to multilateral mechanisms over the last 2-3 years, GEF included, the international aid system is now mostly dry. GEF’s replenishment was pushed over the finish line by arguably the last tail wind that aid for the environment will experience for quite awhile. This means that our investments will be under the microscope. And with certain donor countries, the game for us is not over – the pledges will have to be cashed throughout the GEF-5 cycle. I note President Obama’s promise to work with congress to honor the commitments by the US government. But I also hear the warning that programs that don’t work should come to an end. Happily, I believe that the implementation of the reforms enacted by the GEF council will conspire to make GEF an increasingly more efficient and effective institution.

Finally, it is healthy to notice the call for less duplication and more cooperation. Fragmentation of international assistance for the global environment needs to be brought under control – as a matter of fact, I haven’t read a single official call for more fragmentation of the current architecture, notwithstanding the recent proliferation of new funds. At the same time, highly networked multilateral mechanisms such as the GEF must strive for continuous efficiency gains and for more accountability. Otherwise, the temptation for the global creature to keep spawning new funds and mechanisms will continue to haunt us all.

Abridged Version of Remarks by President Barack Obama at the Millennium Development Goals Summit, United Nations Headquarters, New York, September 22 2010:

" …. the reality we must face – [is] that if the international community just keeps doing the same things the same way, we may make some modest progress here and there, but we will miss many development goals. .. we must do better…. the old ways will not suffice. That’s why … I called for a new approach to development that unleashes transformational change and allows more people to take control of their own destiny. .., no country wants to be dependent on another, … no proud leader in this room wants to ask for aid.

The United States is changing the way we do business, … we’re changing how we define development. For too long, we’ve measured our efforts by the dollars we spent and the food and medicines that we delivered. But aid alone is not development. Development is helping nations to actually develop -- moving from poverty to prosperity. Our focus on assistance … hasn’t always improved those societies over the long term. [For] the millions of people who have relied on food assistance for decades... [t]hat’s not development, that’s dependence, and it’s a cycle we need to break.

The United States of America has been, and will remain, the global leader in providing assistance. We will not abandon those who depend on us…. We will keep our promises and honor our commitments.

But the purpose of development … is creating the conditions where assistance is no longer needed. We will seek development that is sustainable. …with financial and technical assistance, we’ll help developing countries embrace the clean energy technologies they need to adapt to climate change and pursue low-carbon growth. We will partner with countries that are willing to take the lead. Because the days when your development was dictated by foreign capitals must come to an end.

We’ll work with Congress to better match our investments with the priorities of our partner countries. Guided by the evidence, we will invest in programs that work; we’ll end those that don’t. We need to be big-hearted but also hard-headed in our approach to development.
To my fellow donor nations: Let’s resolve to put an end to hollow promises that are not kept. Let’s move beyond the old, narrow debate over how much money we’re spending, and instead let’s focus on results -- whether we’re actually making improvements in people’s lives. [Let’s] forge a new division of labor for development in the 21st century. It’s a division of labor where, instead of so much duplication and inefficiency, governments and multilaterals and NGOs are all working together. We each do the piece that we do best. Together, we can realize the future that none of us can achieve alone. Together, we can deliver historic leaps in development.

Aid effectiveness = working together, Abridged Version of Commentary by Axel van Trotsenburg (Vice President for Concessional Finance and Global Partnerships, World Bank Group) at the Open Forum Blog of the World Bank on 09/19/2010

"With only five years to go before 2015, we need to find ways to strengthen our impact, maximizing the effectiveness of every scarce aid dollar. That means a strong focus on results, accountability and transparency, and enhancing international partnerships. Results will remain central to everything we do, and we are working to increase transparency and information sharing through open data mapping of results and the launch of a database that tracks aid flows.

While in New York, I'll be reaching out to governments, and not just finance ministers, but also ministers for environment, health, education, and so on. Development is complex, and we all need to work together to find lasting solutions."

A commentary in Nature last week redirects the spotlight to a central question for the environment and development agendas: can efforts to conserve biodiversity also benefit the poor?

There is growing social and ecological evidence suggesting that a large number of opportunities exist globally for projects that protect ecosystems to also benefit people's livelihoods. For example, research by Will Turner and this colleagues at Conservation International shows that water conservation projects could aid poverty alleviation. But not all agree.