At GEF Council, a commitment to lean into hope

Meeting in person for the first time since the COVID pandemic began, the Global Environment Facility’s governing body approved the final tranche of its seventh funding cycle and endorsed record donor contributions for the coming four years as the partnership rallied around the need to invest in improved planetary health.

The GEF Council’s June 21-23 gathering had a distinctly positive tone, with delegates from around the world describing their commitment to work together to prioritize environmental action despite ongoing headwinds from the pandemic and related crises.

Council members marked the end of the GEF-7 operating period with a $166 million work program, and finalized a $5.33 billion package for GEF-8 – a 30 percent increase over the last four years – to support scaled-up efforts to reach biodiversity, climate change, land use, and pollution targets this decade.

GEF CEO and Chairperson Carlos Manuel Rodriguez told the delegates he was heartened to see “convergence and collaboration” between the multilateral fund’s member governments and civil society partners on the many environmental challenges facing the planet, and stressed the need to work with the private sector, local communities, and Indigenous Peoples to adequately align sustainable policies and investment plans.

“If we do this by the end of the decade, we can make an enormous difference in the way that future generations will live,” the former environment minister from Costa Rica said.

The final GEF-7 work program includes projects related to climate change, biodiversity, international waters, chemicals and waste, and land degradation, one third of which will be based in Africa. It also includes blended finance support for a new Selva Fund focused on the Amazon rainforest, building on innovative initiatives by the GEF to connect private finance with environmental needs such as the Global Wildlife Bond and the Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosures.

During the three-day meeting, Council members heard from the GEF’s Independent Evaluation Office on the multilateral fund’s recent record, including progress supporting more sustainable forestry management, and from the Scientific and Technical Advisory Panel about the need and potential to further support innovation related to climate change, land use, toxic chemicals, plastics, and water shortages.

Senior officials from the five environmental conventions the GEF funds – on biodiversity, climate change, desertification, mercury, and toxic chemicals – also shared updates on international efforts to meet upcoming targets to slow and reverse environmental degradation, global warming, pollution, and species and habitat loss.

Elizabeth Mrema, Executive Secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity, said the strong GEF-8 replenishment was a good foundation for a new international agreement on biodiversity, which is currently under discussion. Biodiversity will be the largest focal area in GEF-8 – the $1.9 billion allocated is an increase of 62 percent over the last four-year period.

The GEF is the only multilateral fund dedicated to biodiversity’s conservation, sustainable use, and benefit sharing, and has provided 139 countries with early action grants to support the fast implementation of the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework once it is approved.

Patricia Espinosa, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, said the GEF was a key source of finance for countries as they grapple with the conclusions of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and seek to carry out the climate mitigation and adaptation commitments they made in Paris and Glasgow.

“Turning determination into action requires a wide array of instruments, from legislation to policy, from technology to capability building,” Espinosa said. “Nearly all of them depend, in one way or another, on the availability of adequate and predictable financial support. As the UNFCCC’s financial mechanism, the Global Environment Facility has a critical role to play in financing the transition to low-emission and climate-resilient development.”

Andrea Meza Murillo, Deputy Executive Secretary of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification, said that as much as 40 percent of land globally is degraded, with territory nearly the size of South America set to be further degraded if business as usual continues.

“While nations currently pledge to restore one billion degraded hectares by 2030, the restoration scenario projection to regain a healthy land status globally indicates we should be doing at least five times more,” she said, welcoming the GEF’s systemic approach that enables countries to work together on land degradation, climate change, and biodiversity for greater impact.

Pollution and dangerous chemicals were also a major focus of discussion. Rolph Payet, Executive Secretary of the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, described efforts to seek the maximum possible elimination of dangerous toxins during the GEF-8 period, and Minamata Convention on Mercury Executive Secretary Monika Stankiewicz cited a need for increased support for developing countries striving to meet the treaty designed to protect human health and the environment from the adverse effects of mercury.

Addressing the Council meeting, Rodriguez shared reflections from his visits to GEF-supported projects in the Sahel and in Indonesia, including a remote Senegalese ecovillage where the community got its first access to electricity from new solar panels, which are now powering refrigerators and freezers for medicine and food.

“We need to work together for a recovery that is based on the wise use of natural capital, that respects the rights of minorities, and that complies with the ambitious goals and targets of the multilateral environmental mechanisms,” he said. “At the end of the day, we are working for the kids who draw hope from these efforts to make things better.”

For details, see the Joint Summary of the Co-Chairs of the GEF Council.


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