Global Challenges

October 5, 2017

Old city flodeed
More needs to be done to keep our planet livable for future generations. Strength, flexibility and resilience will be needed to contribute to preserving the very foundation of life. Photo: © UN Photo / Marco Dormino

Since the Global Environment Facility was established more than 25 years ago, the global dimension of environmental challenges has become increasingly evident. Scientists tell us that our 'planetary boundaries', the bio-physical processes that determine the stability and resilience of the Earth, are being pushed to their limit or overstepped, with high risks of severely jeopardizing the very base that has allowed our societies to thrive over the past 10,000 years. Especially in developing countries, environmental degradation is imperiling, if not sweeping away, development achievements.

Corporations have become more aware of the global dimension of the environment too, since they are increasingly feeling the consequences of the changing environment in their bottom lines. For example, insurance companies are facing higher costs due to more frequent and bigger climate-related disasters, while interruptions of global supply chains due to droughts or flooding are causing systemic repercussions on industrial production.

It was certainly a sagacious and foresighted decision back in 1991 to establish the Facility as the financial mechanism of the Rio Conventions, and later to add the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants and the Minamata Convention. This bundling is a strength of the Facility, as it encourages synergies, considering that many environmental challenges are interrelated and that, therefore, the most effective ways to address them are often through cross-sectoral approaches. This is evident in Central Asia, where climate change, water scarcity, land degradation, and pressure on biodiversity are all influencing each other.

Despite the increased awareness of these challenges – and actions by states, cities, civil society, companies and international organizations to address them – greater efforts are urgently needed to keep our planet in balance and livable for future generations. Smarter and cleaner technologies and better regulations will help improve the ways we live and do business, so that we can protect the environment and address the needs of human development. Such a change in society and in the economy, of course, requires long-term commitments, clear political signals, and trillions in investments.

Although its own funds have been increasing over the years – and hopefully the seventh replenishment will again be robust – the Facility has to be very selective in its engagements. While keeping in mind its raison d’être – to support the implementation of the obligations stemming from the Multilateral Environmental Agreements – it may be time for the Facility to consider subtle changes to its ways of doing business regarding, among other things: (1) the instruments used, especially in the light of the changes in economic strength of many countries, which makes the old distinction between developed and developing countries questionable; (2) engagement with the private sector given the growing responsibility for environmental matters assigned to and assumed by it; (3) the increased complexity of the international environmental finance landscape; and (4) strategic alignment and coordination with other sources of climate finance, including domestic sources, in country-level planning.

Moreover, the Facility should strive to distinguish its engagement and financing from that of others. This may imply linking more resources to advisory services, technical assistance, and capacity building. In view of more impactful projects and programs, and more effective long-term planning by client countries, greater flexibility and fungibility of resources within country allocations should be considered. Regarding tracking and reporting its activities and reflecting guidance by the Conference of the Parties of the Conventions, the Facility may want to go beyond how much money is going towards the different focal areas, and concentrate on the outcomes achieved.

With the necessary adjustments to the Facility’s modalities of delivery, the "Global Environment Facility family", (i.e., the Council, Secretariat, agencies, client countries, civil society organizations and the private sector), will be well positioned to continue to play a pivotal role for the global environment in the years to come.

We have a saying that “sticks in a bundle are unbreakable”. Strength, flexibility and resilience will be needed to contribute to preserving the very foundation of life, while fostering a transition to a thriving, clean economy, and an equitable society.

by Doris Leuthard, President of the Swiss Confederation and Head of the Federal Department of
the Environment, Transport, Energy and Communications

This article originally appeared in "The Global Environment Facility: Delivering solutions for a sustainable future," the September 2017 issue of UN Environment's "Our Planet" magazine. The magazine was launched at the GEF-7 2nd replenishment meeting in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.