GEF Council to set course for post-pandemic environmental action

June 1, 2020

Tanzania seascape
Tanzania seascape. Photo: Marius Dobilas/Shutterstock

The Global Environment Facility’s governing body will meet online June 2-3 to consider $700 million for projects and programs spanning wildlife, biodiversity, oceans, land degradation, chemicals and waste, and climate change adaptation under the Least Developed Countries Fund. At its first-ever virtual meeting, the GEF Council will also select a new CEO and Chairperson to succeed Naoko Ishii, whose second term ends in July.

The Global Environment Facility’s main governing body will meet remotely June 2-3 to consider $700 million in new projects and programs, and select a new CEO and Chairperson.

The 58th GEF Council meeting will be the first in the nearly 30-year history of the institution to be held entirely online. Delegates spanning 17 time zones, from Mexico to New Zealand, will connect via video conference to address how the GEF can continue leading global efforts to halt and reverse environmental degradation, combat and prepare for climate change, and protect nature, while ensuring business continuity during the coronavirus pandemic.

One of the major decisions expected is the selection of a new GEF CEO and Chairperson to succeed Naoko Ishii, whose second and final term ends July 31. The announcement is expected June 2.

In a document prepared for the Council meeting, the GEF Secretariat outlined the ways the coronavirus pandemic has informed the trust fund’s approach, including an expansion of efforts to confront wildlife trading and to reduce the conflicts between human systems and nature that have brought people and wildlife dangerously close together.

To ensure developing countries are supported in their environmental efforts, even in an economically challenging time, the GEF has proposed a $645 million work program for the Council’s consideration, with projects and programs spanning wildlife trading, biodiversity, oceans, land use, chemicals, clean energy, and other areas. It includes new investments for the GEF-funded Food, Land Use and Restoration (FOLUR) Impact Program, Global Wildlife Program, and Electric Mobility Program. Also, a new major program, GOLD+, is being introduced to accelerate the formalization of the artisanal small-scale gold mining sector as a means to eliminate mercury from its operation. Finally, the Common Oceans program, representing a second phase of the Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction (ABNJ) program, is also being considered.

The latest proposed GEF work program includes $59 million for four blended finance projects, which aim to create risk-return profiles that attract additional private investment where it is critically needed. The projects include a green shipping platform to retrofit shipping fleets for increased fuel efficiency; a forest conservation and climate-smart agriculture fund designed to de-risk local financing in developing countries; a wildlife bond that will unlock institutional investor financing for the conservation of the black rhino in South Africa; and a livelihood carbon fund focused on community- and nature-based solutions that will generate returns to investors through certified carbon offsets.

The proposed work program, part of the GEF-7 funding cycle, is expected to mobilize $3 billion in co-financing from other sources and directly benefit 12 million local people in project areas.

Council members will also consider a $60 million work program of the GEF-managed Least Developed Countries Fund, which helps the world’s poorest countries address their urgent and immediate climate change adaptation priorities. The LDCF’s strong focus on supporting communities and addressing vulnerability and resilience which will be particularly relevant to address the ongoing COVID-19 crisis and its consequences. Its work program spans eight countries – Burkina Faso, Djibouti, Haiti, Lao PDR, Liberia, Mauritania, Tanzania, and Yemen – and the projects are expected to mobilize $257 million in co-financing from other sources. 

This will be the last GEF Council session presided by Naoko Ishii, who was appointed as CEO and Chairperson in 2012. During her tenure the GEF broadened its approach to tackle the underlying drivers of environmental degradation in addition to their symptoms, with a focus on integration, new Impact Programs centered on cities, food and land use, and sustainable forestry management in the Amazon, the Congo Basin, and in dryland areas, and innovative approaches to tackling a range of environmental issues including marine plastics and the sustainable ocean economy. She also successfully concluded two international replenishment negotiations and elevated the GEF’s profile and impact through leadership in multi-stakeholder platforms like the World Economic Forum’s Platform for Accelerating the Circular Economy, and with new platforms including the Global Commons Alliance.