Switzerland: if GEF did not exist, we would have to invent it!

July 7, 2016

Panorama of Zurich - Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

By Doris Leuthard, Federal Councillor, Head of the Federal Department of the Environment, Transport, Energy and Communications (DETEC), Switzerland

Over the last two decades, the global dimension of the environment has become increasingly evident. The protection and sustainable use of the environment as natural resource, base for prosperity and wellbeing, is clearly for the benefit of all. Effective environmental policies have to be organized in a global manner. However, not all countries have the same capacity to formulate and effectively implement such policies. The GEF has been at the forefront of providing support for such policies all around the world. In doing so, the GEF is an essential element in the structure of multilateral environmental agreements. Its role goes beyond being an instrument in the interest of developing countries, which receive such support. It is a forward looking and solution-oriented instrument in the interest of all of us. If GEF did not exist, we would have to invent it!

As part of a unique constituency of recipient and non-recipient countries, which includes Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, Switzerland is pleased to have been part of the GEF family since the inception. The GEF has been active in several environmental areas, and new ones, like chemicals, have been added to its mandate. This is indeed a strength of the GEF, since many environmental challenges are interrelated and therefore the most effective solutions are often of cross-sectoral nature. This is evident in our constituency in Central Asia, where climate change, water scarcity, land degradation and pressure on biodiversity are mutually influencing each other.

Despite some successes – for example in protecting the ozone layer – the pressure on the environment continues. According to science, planetary boundaries are exceeded in several areas, such as biodiversity, chemicals, water, or climate. Especially in developing countries, environmental degradation is jeopardizing if not sweeping off development achievements. We are in a race against time. The GEF’s own funds are relatively modest compared to the huge needs to halt environmental degradation. Therefore, it is right that it seeks a catalytic role and that GEF projects support the development of conducive regulatory frameworks with the aim of shifting investment risks and factor in the risks induced by climate change, biodiversity loss, etc. Two of the GEF’s main strengths are that it implements projects in cooperation with the GEF Agencies, the client countries and civil society organizations, and that it works across sectors as a financial mechanism of several environmental conventions.

As a pioneer in support of the global environment, the GEF is well positioned to deliver sustainable action in the years to come. Building on 25 years of experience and on its comprehensive mandate and broad partnership, the GEF will need to maintain a sharp focus, yet be prepared to test new approaches and to innovate and collaborate beyond the traditional partners. Only in doing so, the GEF will be able to contribute to preserve the very foundation of life, while fostering a transition to a thriving and clean economy and an equitable society.