GEF Council to focus on assisting countries through the pandemic

December 1, 2020

Rainbow over Sani Pass at Lesotho and South Africa border
The 59th GEF Council work program features projects with COVID-related adaptations and initiatives, including one for livelihoods and landscapes in Lesotho. Photo: PetrJanJuracka/Shutterstock

The Global Environment Facility’s governing body will focus in its upcoming Council meetings on ways to assist developing countries emerge stronger from the coronavirus pandemic that has underlined how important it is for strains on nature from human activity to be addressed.

The 59th meeting of the GEF Council, and 29th meeting of the Least Developed Countries Fund and Special Climate Change Fund Council, will again be held virtually December 7-11 as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak that has impacted every country on the planet, with human and economic costs that continue to climb.

Since the pandemic began, the GEF has been working closely with its government and implementing agency partners to ensure continuity of support, and to ensure that vital projects and programs can keep advancing through this crisis.

“We are here to assist,” said Carlos Manuel Rodriguez, who took over as CEO and Chairperson of the GEF in September. “I look forward to working with the GEF Council to ensure that we can assist recipient countries navigating this crisis through targeted support, projects designed with COVID-19 in mind, and programs that will help us all recover from the pandemic with smarter, greener investment that makes the world more resilient.”

In their online meeting, Council members will review a new white paper from the GEF COVID-19 Task Force on the nexus between emerging infectious diseases and environmental degradation, aimed at informing international efforts to recover more sustainably from the pandemic. They will also discuss how the coronavirus has affected project preparation and implementation to date and consider a $409 million work program designed to help countries navigate multiple crises including the coronavirus.

The work program includes 62 projects and programs spanning related to biodiversity, climate change, land degradation, international waters, and chemicals and waste. It includes a blended finance project related to off-grid energy in Africa, and an extension of the Food Systems, Land Use and Restoration Impact Program to include Madagascar.

Projects with specific COVID-related adaptations include initiatives related to mangroves for climate resilience in Benin; biosafety in southern Africa; access and benefit-sharing of the Nagoya Protocol in The Gambia; chemicals management in the Philippines; climate security and natural resource management in Mali; integrated landscape management in the Bahamas; sea turtles and seagrass habitats in Madagascar; wildlife conservation management in China; land degradation in Azerbaijan; biodiversity and ecosystem services in Chile; and livelihoods and landscapes in Lesotho.

This is the fifth work program to be considered under GEF-7, the four-year funding cycle that ends in June 2022. It is expected to directly benefit more than 25 million people in project areas while generating global environmental benefits. If approved, the new projects and programs will be implemented by 12 GEF Agencies: the African Development Bank, Asian Development Bank, Conservation International, Food and Agriculture Organization, Inter-American Development Bank, International Fund for Agriculture Development, International Union for Conservation of Nature, UN Development Programme, UN Environment Programme, UN Industrial Development Organization, The World Bank, and World Wildlife Fund - US.

Additionally, the Council will consider a proposed Private Sector Engagement Strategy focused on working in a systematic way with industry groups, companies, and investors; review relations between the GEF and UN conventions and other international institutions; among other matters. In their meeting, the GEF Council will open talks about the next replenishment cycle, GEF-8, which in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic is an opportunity to ramp up global efforts to protect and restore the integrity of ecosystems as a central requirement for sustainable and economic development and for more resilient societies.

Immediately following the GEF Council meeting, there will be a Council meeting of the Least Developed Countries Fund (LDCF) and Special Climate Change Fund (SCCF) – two GEF-administered trust funds focused on helping the world’s poorest countries to increase their resilience and adapt to climate change. That session will consider a $64 million work LDCF work program comprising of nine projects, including three multi-trust fund projects that combine resources with the GEF Trust Fund, and is expected to include important new pledges of financial support from donors.  

The new LDCF work program was developed during the COVID-19 pandemic, and came about as a result of significant collaboration between recipient countries, GEF Agencies, and other partners. It spans eight countries – Afghanistan, Benin, Burundi, Haiti, Mali, Nepal, Senegal, and Sierra Leone – whose people and ecosystems are facing increased risk and vulnerability as a result of the coronavirus.

For instance, in Nepal, a project on managing watersheds for enhanced climate resilience has added urgency because of the pandemic which has caused many migrant workers to return to forested areas. The LDCF-supported project, to be managed by WWF-US, will support nature-based solutions related to water protection, forest restoration and regeneration, and the stabilization of landslide-vulnerable areas to help both communities and ecosystems.

Similarly, in Sierra Leone, a project aimed at supporting entrepreneurship around climate adaptation technology will aim to address challenges related to food, water, and energy security that have become more acute during COVID-19. By helping small enterprises deliver services to local communities, the project to be implemented by UNIDO aims to create new business opportunities that also result in improved climate resilience at a difficult moment.

These and other projects aim to address climate adaptation priorities while also seeking to support livelihoods and human capital, and implement nature-based solutions to protect ecosystems that are foundations of economic activities.