October 5, 2017

Erik Solheim, Achim Steiner, and Kristalina Georgieva reflect on the role and work on the Global Environment Facility. Photo: © CC BY NC ND 2.0 Deutsche Bank

More than just a financial mechanism or a partnership agreement, the Global Environment Facility sits at the very heart of global action to protect and restore our environment. This edition of Our Planet looks at the work of the Facility, which for more than a quarter century has driven catalytic change, enabling progress on the world’s most pressing environmental challenges.

Established on the eve of the 1992 Rio Earth Summit by UN Environment, the United Nations Development Programme and the World Bank, the Facility has provided over $17 billion in grants and mobilized an additional $88 billion in financing for thousands of projects around the world. It is now an international partnership of 183 countries, uniting international institutions, civil society and the private sector.

The Facility is the foundation stone of much of the current global action, supporting multilateral environmental agreements to make a real difference to people’s lives, and enabling direct action on the greatest threats to our shared future – from global warming to hazardous waste to land and water degradation. It is a pillar of the new Minimata Convention on mercury, the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants and the Convention for Biological Diversity – not to mention the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Convention to Combat Desertification. Through platforms like UN Environment’s Regional Seas Programme it unites countries to protect and restore the ecosystems they share and depend upon, underlining the power of joint action to preserve the global commons.

As the Facility’s work enters a new phase under its seventh replenishment cycle, this edition underscores the real change that has been delivered, as well as the importance of a robust replenishment that will see new priorities put to work as we move forward together.

From helping more than 160 countries to tackle the challenges of climate change, to managing harmful chemicals, cutting emissions, preserving forests and protecting biodiversity, the Facility continues to be a core part of our work at UN Environment, as it does at all its partner agencies. Together with these partners, we stand ready to expand this work to overcome the challenges we share at this critical juncture for our planet.

by Erik Solheim, Executive Director, UN Environment

Across the world, the Global Environment Facility’s investments have transformed markets, strengthened the resilience of vulnerable communities, improved ocean governance, advanced the sustainable management of chemicals and addressed the key drivers of environmental degradation.

The Facility plays a critical role in disrupting the systems that drive biodiversity loss by tackling key market, governance, policy and implementation failures, using new technologies, platforms, and public-private partnerships.

For example, through sustained investment and partnership with the shipping industry, we are leaving a remarkable legacy with a new global convention to reduce the risk of transfer of harmful aquatic organisms in ships’ ballast water, creating an entirely new treatment industry valued at over $35 billion.

The Facility has also been instrumental in advancing sustainable energy – promoting innovation and supporting governments to catalyze the private sector finance needed to achieve clean, affordable and reliable energy.
These results have been achieved largely due to the strong partnerships the Facility has forged – with UN agencies, development banks, governments, civil society, and the private sector.

It is critical that we build on this track record, aiming for greater impact and transformational change. We need integrated solutions: the challenge of protecting our forests, for example, is not only a conservation issue. It is a climate change issue, an energy issue, a livelihoods issue, a governance issue, and a gender issue.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development offers an unprecedented opportunity, and the Global Environment Facility is well suited to this task. As a founding member of the Facility, the United Nations Development Programme remains strongly committed to the partnership. We believe that the complex environmental, social and economic challenges of the 21st Century can only be solved together – through the integrated, systemic approaches proposed for the Global Environment Facility’s seventh replenishment phase, and by leveraging the comparative advantages of all Facility partners.

by Achim Steiner, Administrator, United Nations Development Programme


Together with the Global Environment Facility, we have pioneered integrated programming to promote conservation of natural resources, reverse the effects of ecosystem degradation, catalyze low-carbon development and manage chemicals and pollution. We have leveraged development finance for the benefit of the global environment, as part of our goals of ending extreme poverty and boosting shared prosperity.

The impact of World Bank-Global Environment Facility investments is tangible. We have worked with the government of Brazil and several key partners to create the world’s largest tropical forest conservation program, supporting the conservation and sustainable use of more than 52 million hectares – around 15 per cent of Brazil’s Amazonian landscape. We have pursued transformational investments in international waters topping $6 billion and initiated long-term programs in river basins across Africa. In the African Sahel, a region highly vulnerable to climate change and home to 135 million people, we are implementing a $1.1 billion investment programme across 12 countries, empowering communities to sustainably manage land and water resources. And in China, a long-running program led by the International Finance Corporation has helped Chinese banks build profitable clean energy lending portfolios that will avoid over 22 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions – equivalent to two years of China’s total emissions. The Facility’s resources have helped us innovate, take risks, and put in place policy, regulatory and legal frameworks that drive economic development and generate global environmental benefits.

The Facility will play a key role in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, and the current replenishment is an important opportunity to implement a financing framework that not only leverages our balance sheets, but also mobilizes much-needed private sector investment. As a proven partnership, capable of delivering innovation for scalable solutions, the Global Environment Facility is irreplaceable.

by Kristalina Georgieva, Chief Executive Officer, World Bank

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.