Cameroon highlands tea farm
Photo: Mohd Firdaus Othman/Shutterstock

The latest work program will help developing countries’ clean, resilient, blue, and green recovery from COVID-19, with targeted support for marine biodiversity, fisheries, chemical management, biodiversity, climate change, landscapes, e-mobility, green buildings, and mercury-free mining.

On the opening day of its 60th meeting, the Global Environment Facility’s governing body approved a $281 million work program designed to further support developing countries’ sustainable recovery from COVID-19 and to build on growing international momentum toward international climate, and biodiversity goals.

GEF Council members from both donor and recipient governments, meeting virtually because of the COVID-19 pandemic, welcomed the new set of initiatives which are set to benefit more than 18 million people while generating global environmental benefits. Each dollar provided in the work program is expected to mobilize more than $10 in co-financing from other sources.

Carlos Manuel Rodriguez, the GEF’s CEO and Chairperson, thanked the 184-country partnership for working hard to keep environmental issues high on the agenda throughout COVID-19, and to find ways to efficiently design and advance priority initiatives for a strong pipeline of projects.

“I’m extremely pleased that despite operational challenges, we are presenting a high quality, forward-looking trust fund work program,” he said, noting that country, agency, civil society, and other partners had quickly shifted to new business practices and virtual interactions to keep working effectively over the past year. “It’s a great testament to all the colleagues across the GEF partnership that this has been done.”

This sentiment was echoed by India’s Council Member, Rajesh Khullar, who told the meeting: “We appreciate that the GEF has been staying ahead of the game despite the pandemic.”

The work program spans 92 countries, including 30 Least Developed Countries and 35 Small Island Developing States.

Gustavo Fonseca, the GEF’s Director of Programs, noted that most of the trust fund’s impact goals for GEF-7 have already been met, with a year to go until the next four-year cycle begins.

“We would like to congratulate our partner countries, agencies, civil society organizations, and stakeholders for this progress, which over the past year has coincided with a very challenging time for everyone,” he said. “While we are now ahead of schedule on many metrics, that will not slow us down as we look ahead to GEF-8 and the enormity of the needs the planet is facing.”

Nearly half of the work program funding is allocated for international waters – with a focus on marine biodiversity and fisheries – and for chemical and waste management. It also includes support for projects related to biodiversity, climate change, and land degradation, and includes expansions of the ISLANDS, GOLD+, and African Minigrids program to additional countries.

Four climate adaptation projects supported by the GEF under this work program will also be considered for support later this week from the GEF-managed Least Developed Countries Fund, which provides dedicated climate resilience support to Least Developed Countries.

In his presentation, Fonseca noted that each project in the work program was subjected to COVID-19 screening to assess the risks and opportunities associated with the pandemic, with special attention given to initiatives contributing to a clean, resilient, blue, and green recovery.

He also stressed the priority of gender mainstreaming across GEF-supported projects, which are required to include gender-responsive stakeholder consultations and information on plans to carry out gender assessments and action plans in project development.

Included in the work program are two non-grant instrument projects related to climate adaptation. The first supports climate-resilient technology and sustainable land solutions through CRAFT, a new fund managed by Conservation International and Lightsmith Group LLC. The second includes first loss guarantees for green retrofits of small and medium-sized hotels, in partnership with IFC, a member of the World Bank Group.

Tom Bui, who represents Canada on the GEF Council, noted the blended finance initiatives as positive elements of the latest work program, saying: “We need innovation, we need partnership to deliver the bold agenda in front of us.”

Earlier in the session, Mette Møglestue of Norway, who represents her country as well as Denmark, Latvia, and Lithuania, was elected as Chair of the 60th GEF Council, which marks the trust fund’s 30th birthday since its creation before the Rio Earth Summit.

The Council also discussed and took stock of progress made by the UN Development Programme (UNDP) in rolling out improved control mechanisms, following an internal UNDP audit and recommendations from the last GEF Council meeting. As was the case in the 59th Council, all projects included in the latest work program implemented by UNDP will undergo additional review as part of their approval process.

Françoise Clottes, the GEF’s Director of Strategy and Operations, noted that this process had not resulted in project cancellations, and said monitoring was ongoing to ensure delays did not result in challenges for countries. “We are committed to stay the course and deliver on time,” she said.

Rodriguez, who was selected as GEF CEO and Chairperson one year ago, said the Council was meeting at a very important moment, where political will and aspirations are closer than ever before to scientific expectations and recommendations related to pressures on the planet.

“We’ve seen strong political signals for more sustainability action coming from the recent G7 meeting, along with regional meetings in developing countries,” he said, describing a “steady drumbeat” of calls for nature protection and restoration from investors, shareholders, and business leaders, as well as from young people and civil society. “In this context the GEF is in the best possible position to be a positive agent of change for this great transition.”