Photo of forest from the ground perspective
Photo of forest from the ground perspective

The coronavirus pandemic has forced us all to confront how environmental degradation bringing wildlife and people too close together endangers economies and societies alike. In a document prepared for the 58th GEF Council, the Global Environment Facility Secretariat outlines its planned response to COVID-19. Read it here.

The coronavirus pandemic that has shuttered most of the world in 2020 has its roots in the environmental degradation that the Global Environment Facility and its partners are working to stop. It is increasingly clear that to manage this crisis and avert future ones, we need to understand the root cause of zoonotic diseases – namely, a collision between human systems and natural systems.

Recognizing the urgency of this moment, and the high stakes for governments and businesses who are starting to think through economic recovery plans, the GEF Secretariat has outlined a set of steps for the immediate, medium, and longer term to help address the present situation and reduce the probability of new environmental crises emerging in the foreseeable future. The response spans measures to address wildlife trading, deforestation, urban sprawl, and other pressures on ecosystems that are bringing wild animals and humans in dangerous proximity.

The response also includes efforts to support a green economic recovery consistent with sustainable and nature-based development. These steps focus on the acceleration of needed transformations to economic and social systems to reduce their conflict with nature – building on efforts already underway by the GEF-funded Good Growth Partnership and the GEF Impact Programs on Food Systems, Land Use and Restoration; Sustainable Cities; and Sustainable Forest Management.

The planned steps include:

Immediate actions

  • Increased focus on efforts to deal with the wildlife trade and consumption challenges. Through the Global Wildlife Program, the largest global effort to date to tackle wildlife trafficking, the GEF has been working with the World Bank and many other partners to help countries in Africa and Asia invest in innovative solutions. However, important gaps remain. Furthermore, the demand side of the equation needs to be placed in sharper focus to handle unchecked consumption of bushmeat and wildlife products.
  • Conduct analysis on the future risks linked to emerging infectious diseases along with their root causes, including their connection with deforestation and ecosystem fragmentation. A group of experts is being formed to identify priority near-term actions, to explore how projects could be fitted with campaigns on public awareness and behavior change, and to gather and disseminate information on the ecological and local economic consequences of pandemics. The experts group will also support the development of a white paper on future risks linked to emerging infectious diseases and to critical aspects of environmental degradation such as deforestation and habitat fragmentation.
  • Identify risks in projects and programs that may seriously compromise past gains and future outcomes. The GEF is already engaging with implementing agencies to explore how important operations, such as those performed by rangers and other essential personnel in the target protected areas, could be sustained during this difficult period.

Medium-term actions

  • Develop an internal blueprint on how to deploy ongoing and upcoming projects that can help lay the foundation for a green recovery. This blueprint will integrate the risks and opportunities linked to COVID-19 in the current funding cycle and include an examination of how the crisis is affecting strategic platforms of engagement on themes such as food security, cities, mining and mercury, and the circular economy. The blueprint will also encompass the GEF program on adaptation funded by the Least Developed Countries Fund and Special Climate Change Fund, and delve into other areas such as infectious healthcare waste.

Longer-term actions

  • Further promote systems change thinking in the strategies to guide GEF’s upcoming 8th Replenishment cycle. The replenishment discussion provides an opportunity to explore the lasting solution to COVID-19 and other such diseases, which is to accelerate transformational change to the human systems, be they energy, cities, food, and production and consumption, so that a balance between natural systems and human systems be restored within planetary boundaries.

Read the Council document for more information.

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