By Christiaan Rebergen, Director-General for International Cooperation, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Netherlands
How different the world was 25 years ago. The international community had just realised that the pace of growth, production, and waste could no longer be sustained by our planet. There was a realisation that natural resources were not unlimited, that biodiversity was decreasing, and that the rapid increase of greenhouse gases was causing global warming. We realised that our world’s carrying capacity is limited. As a result, the principle of sustainable development was adopted with the Rio Declaration in 1992. We agreed to start ‘developing by meeting the needs of the present, without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’. That was when the Global Environment Facility was founded.
In 25 years the GEF has delivered impressive work to support the transition to a sustainable and prosperous world. We have seen activities in more than 160 countries. The coastal communities of Bangladesh are now better equipped for floods, with a ‘forest, fish, fruits’ model improving resilience, nutrition and ecosystem protection. In Ghana, coastal sites that are a habitat for migratory birds are now better managed. And five tropical forests in Congo are now better protected to preserve their ecological wealth and diversity.
The GEF has been a constant factor and driving force in implementing the UN Conventions for the environment, in a continuously changing environmental infrastructure. What’s more, the GEF has highlighted how closely the environment and development are interrelated. When disaster strikes, people living in poverty often have to sell off their few remaining cattle and are forced to cut down trees for firewood, leading to land degradation. Boosting development, diversifying income and creating jobs can have a positive influence on the environment.
However, as the world, its climate and the environment are changing rapidly, we need to adapt our approach as well. Climate change is threatening ecosystems and increasing the prevalence of extreme weather events like droughts, storms and heavy rainfall, thereby damaging livelihoods. These threats make climate resilience an essential component of development in the years ahead. Ever greater demand for natural resources, tremendous population growth and climate change are interdependent factors that threaten our global environment. So an integrated approach to environmental policy is essential.
The Netherlands urges you to continue your environmental interventions in the most effective manner possible, thereby adapting your policies to our ever-changing global environment. Based on the evidence of the past 25 years, we have every confidence that the GEF will achieve this goal.
Here’s to another 25 years!