I arrived at the Global Environment Facility (GEF) in 2012 in the midst of a shocking volume of “bad news” about the state of the global environment brought to me by scientists, GEF recipient countries, civil society organizations, and other stakeholders, amplified by a plethora of media reports. Their message was clear: the global environment was in a dangerous downward spiral and reaching its limits. My shock was magnified by the fact that while I was at Ministry of Finance, Japan, we rarely discussed this topic. This realization gave me many sleepless nights.
The initial shock made me think about what role the GEF could play to arrest this downward spiral and to save humanity from the imminent environmental crisis before us. My first year in the job marked the 20th anniversary of the GEF, which was established to serve environmental conventions. By that time, some $9.2 billion had been spent on approximately 2,700 projects spread over more than 165 countries. Interestingly, more than 80 percent of those projects were rated as having satisfactory performance.
There is an apparent paradox here. Perhaps the GEF was not doing the right things, or if it was, these efforts ended up being too small to have an impact at the scale the problem requires. Or perhaps both factors were in operation. Whatever the answer, if the GEF was to continue being a proud institution created to serve the global environment, it needed to find a better way to deliver on its mission. This is how the GEF journey started.
It was a good time to embark on a new journey, as the world was full of high-quality scientific information on the environment and a new political movement had emerged through coalitions of non-state actors and by the growing realization that nature was foundational to human development. This momentum helped to shape the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement in 2015.
Our deliberations and extensive consultations over a two-year period led to the GEF 2020 Strategy, a first-ever GEF overarching strategy not tied to replenishment cycles, which was adopted by the GEF Council in 2014, and became the direction of travel or “guidepost” for our journey since then. The GEF 2020 Strategy laid out several key principles, and programming strategies for consecutive GEF replenishment cycles (GEF-6 of 2014-2018, and GEF-7 of 2018-2022) are built on those principles.
The Commodities IAP program was launched to tackle the growing peril facing the world’s tropical forests, which are not only home to vast repositories of biodiversity, but also to a significant proportion of global carbon stocks. Agricultural expansion and production of three major commodities—beef, soy, and palm oil—have been identified as the primary driver of approximately 80 percent of tropical deforestation worldwide. These three commodities are used in many foods and goods consumed by billions of people around the world and are a key part of global commodity trade. While they are important factors in many national and local economies, globally they are among the largest drivers of tropical deforestation and conversion of habitat in Latin America, West Africa, and Southeast Asia. A growing population, burgeoning middle class, and changing diets are expected to increase the demand for these agricultural commodities.
To help address the challenges to tropical forests that beef, soy, and palm oil pose, the program has been rebranded as the Good Growth Partnership (GGP). Through this integrated supply chain approach, the program is promoting systemic shifts by engaging major producer countries (Brazil, Paraguay, Liberia, and Indonesia); businesses that control much of the demand for these commodities; and financial institutions operating in the agricultural commodities space.
The engagement is through sub-national and national government-led multi-stakeholder platforms, which are committed to implementing long-term action plans for the sustainable production of palm oil, beef, and soy. This includes platforms such as the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil, Round Table on Responsible Soy, Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef, Paraguayan Roundtable for Sustainable Beef, Paraguayan Sustainable Finance Roundtable, Soy Buyers Coalition, Soft Commodities Forum, Cerrado Working Group, Tropical Forest Alliance, Amsterdam Declaration Partnership, Indonesia Business Council for Sustainable Development, and others.
At a landscape level, the GGP has helped identify and is now working to protect more than half-a-million hectares of high conservation value forest. Through technical guidance on policy, effective land use planning, conservation agreements, private sector partnerships, and the strengthening of farmer support services it is helping to catalyze the systemic transformation necessary to change the way commodities are produced. Key partners such as Proforest, ISEAL, and Trase are helping to develop innovative tools and knowledge products for deforestation-free production of the commodities.
Across the four participating countries, more than 300 private sector entities have been engaged through workshops, dialogues, and action planning. In Indonesia, the Coalition for Sustainable Livelihoods is fostering engagements with companies like Mars, Incorporated; Mondelēz International; and PepsiCo, to align landscape and supply chain efforts with existing national and regional platforms and policies. Critically, efforts to harness the demand and influence of commodity traders, buyers, manufacturers, and the institutions that finance them are making significant headway.
With growing commitment by African countries to transform smallholder agriculture, the Food Security IAP program was designed to help promote sustainability and resilience by integrating management of the natural capital—land, water, soils, trees and genetic resources—that underpin food and nutrition security. The integrated approach will ensure that natural capital is at the core of investments seeking to promote sustainable food production in Sub-Saharan Africa, and as a result, help countries address threats to land and soil, biodiversity, and reduce GHG emissions.
The program directly engages 12 countries in dryland regions where the threat of land degradation is exacerbated by effects of climate change. GEF financing is supporting efforts to scale-up sustainable and resilient practices and technologies across the targeted agro-ecological systems, including practices to improve soil health, water resource management, and vegetation cover with direct benefits to the most vulnerable land users.
To ensure large-scale and impactful outcomes, the program also operates at the regional level to promote multi-stakeholder coordination, planning, and investment in sustainable land management; foster supportive policies and incentives for smallholder farmers to adopt sustainable and resilient practices (including low-emission technologies and biodiversity considerations); and promote increased private sector investment in climate-resilient and low-emission food value-chains. The program is harnessing partners such as the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, the World Agroforestry Center, and Biodiversity International for technical expertise to support smallholder farmers in implementing these integrated solutions.
Humanity, for the first time, has become an urban species. The number of people living in towns and cities has grown more than fivefold since 1950 and a decade ago overtook the number of people living in the countryside. Cities consume two-thirds of the world’s energy and account for 70 percent of global GHG emissions. It is estimated that by 2030, cities will be expanding into key global biodiversity hotspots, severely affecting natural ecosystems and their critical services for cities.
Rapid and unplanned urbanization is leading to urban sprawl that has made cities highly vulnerable to climate change-induced floods, droughts, and heatwaves. Urban sprawl is further resulting in inadequate transportation infrastructure, which leads to air pollution that affects the health and well-being of millions.
The Sustainable Cities Program is advancing the integrated approach of urban planning and sustainability, bringing together global, national, and local stakeholders to work towards a common vision of low-carbon, green, inclusive, gender sensitive, and resilient development in targeted cities. The program was initially launched as a pilot program in GEF-6 with 28 cities across 11 countries in Africa, Asia, and South America. It was further expanded in GEF-7 to include 9 additional countries and at least 27 more cities.
The program is delivered through two interlinked components: innovative implementation models for integrated sustainability solutions at the city level in 20 countries, and a global platform for knowledge exchange, learning, and fostering partnerships for raising ambition and on-the-ground action. The global platform engages city-based organizations— C40 and ICLEI—and the World Resources Institute as key partners in providing support to cities for access to cutting-edge knowledge, peer-to-peer learning and capacity development. As the country and city-level investments lead to multiple global environmental benefits, the platform will enhance the potential for amplifying the benefits across many more cities in recipient countries.
The world needs to dramatically reduce the impact of food systems and land use on biodiversity, ecosystems, and ecosystem services. In one of the most comprehensive assessments of biodiversity and ecosystems services, the Intergovernmental Science Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services established that agriculture and food production has had the largest impact on ecosystems that people depend on for food, clean water, and a stable climate. Food systems are also a major source of global GHG emissions through methane from livestock, nitrous oxide from fertilizer use, and carbon dioxide from tractors and fertilizer production. Furthermore, land use change from converting forests, woody savannas, and grasslands into crops and pastures, and draining peatlands for agriculture also leads to GHG emissions as a result of vegetation loss and soil degradation. Globally, food systems consume far too much water and generate unsustainable levels of pollution.
These challenges can only be tackled by transforming food systems to one that embeds sustainability from farm-to-fork, that generate agricultural commodities without deforestation and habitat conversion, and that restore soils and degraded areas back to natural ecosystems or to productivity (relieving pressure for further conversion). The challenges are integrated; the solution needs to be as well.
Given the fact that increasing demand for food is one of the major drivers of biodiversity loss, land degradation, and depletion of water resources, the FOLUR Impact Program will support efforts to ensure that productive lands are embedded within landscapes that provide ecosystem services as well as protect the natural ecosystems and soil on which they depend. Achieving this transition will require a holistic, system-wide approach integrating both horizontal and vertical dimensions.
The FOLUR Impact Program seeks to transform food and land use systems and help countries reconcile competing social, economic, and environmental interests by moving away from unsustainable sectoral approaches.
The program directly engages 27 countries and specifically targets large production landscapes where systemic changes can deliver global environmental benefits at scale and be sustained after the program concludes. Given the environmental footprint of the food system, the program covers globally important geographies for both the major commercial agricultural commodities (e.g. soybean, coffee, cocoa, palm oil, and livestock) and food staples (e.g. rice, wheat, and maize).
The FOLUR Impact Program also draws on experiences with the GGP Platform, which has brought together key stakeholders involved with the agricultural commodities that drive deforestation. The Impact Program will build a global coalition to engage stakeholders in the major food systems and supply chains, including existing platforms such as the Food and Land Use Coalition, Tropical Forest Alliance, Global Landscapes Forum, and others to work collectively with countries toward achieving sustainability.
The GEF has a history of using non-grant instruments as blended finance in the area of climate change mitigation, specifically through projects on renewable energy and energy efficiency.
This involved the use of a wide array of instruments such as debt, equity, and guarantees to attract private sector investment and deliver global environmental benefits beyond business as usual. The focus on systems transformation has made it possible for project developers to offer innovative financial instruments not only for climate change mitigation, but also in “frontier” areas such as land degradation, biodiversity, chemicals and waste, and international waters where private sector investment is scarce.
In GEF-6, the non-grant instrument was piloted with $99.5 million for 11 innovative projects that attracted $1.79 billion in co-financing through a balanced regional distribution addressing fundamental drivers of global environmental degradation. The pilot demonstrated that the use of non-grant instruments as blended finance can provide high leverage to the GEF investment. Building on the lessons learned in GEF-6, the GEF-7 Replenishment expanded the envelope of blended finance to $136 million to accelerate efforts in catalyzing investments from capital markets at global and national levels to invest in global environmental benefits through systems transformation. The use of blended finance in natural resources management and conservation holds great prospects for mobilizing private capital and is therefore an important element in the package of available instruments focused on investing in the global commons.
Urgent action is needed to protect millions of men, women, and children exposed to toxic levels of mercury through gold production. Every year, more than 2,700 tonnes of gold is mined around the world. Twenty percent of that—over 500 tonnes annually—is produced by artisanal and small-scale miners. These miners and processors, the majority of them in developing countries, often work in harsh conditions, without the protection of industry regulations on pay, health or safety, in order to sate the global hunger for gold—as investment, jewelry, and consumer products.
The GEF-supported Global Opportunities for the Long-term Development of the Artisanal Small-Scale Gold Mining Sector (GEF GOLD) program aims to reduce the use of mercury in artisanal gold mining by engaging actors along the entire supply chain. Spanning eight countries, the five-year program is helping to introduce safe, mercury-free technologies into the sector, which will help provide a safe transition to job formality and dignified work for millions, while putting an end to the environmental impacts of mining and paving the way to sustainably produced gold. The program is also working with governments to formalize the sector, promote miners’ rights, safety, and access to markets.
By supporting the regulatory and policy reforms needed to formalize the work of artisanal and small- scale miners across eight countries, GEF GOLD aims to secure miners’ livelihoods, through opening up the access to markets and finance needed to increase incomes and enable the uptake of mercury- free technology. Through this effort, the program is attracting interest from companies such as Argor-Heraeus, that play an influential role in the supply chain, and will help to create and propagate new gold links between artisanal and small-scale miners and consumers. The program will directly contribute to supporting countries’ commitments under the Minamata Convention on Mercury to reduce and, where feasible, eliminate mercury use in the sector.
The Amazon Sustainable Landscapes (ASL) Program is facilitating a transition from a business-as-usual scenario, in which forest are converted into low productivity cattle ranching and other unsustainable land uses, to sustainably managed forest and freshwater landscapes. This evolution is evidence of the trust established over the years with governments of the basin countries, which will help them work collectively toward maintaining and restoring the ecological resilience of the Amazon.
The program supports national projects in Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru, and Suriname, and focuses on four priorities: integrated protected landscapes; integrated productive landscapes; policies/incentives for protected and productive landscapes; and capacity building and regional cooperation.
As a direct result of its leadership role in bringing Amazon countries together under a common vision for the entire basin, the ASL was chosen as the key platform to operationalize the Leticia Pact, an unprecedented agreement with clear commitments that was signed by seven countries in September 2019. The Leticia Pact offers a powerful framework to protect the world’s largest tropical forest via disaster response coordination on the ground and data sharing, including that generated by satellite monitoring, early warning systems, and other means.
ASL seeks to increase the area under effective conservation, reduce deforestation, promote sustainable use and restoration of native vegetation, and ensure the conservation of species, habitats, ecosystem services, and cultural values. The Program is expanding the range of thematic issues it will tackle from a predominantly terrestrial perspective to include the management of freshwater ecosystems and aquatic resources, including strategic watersheds.
A landscape mosaic made up of well-managed protected areas and indigenous territories, with sustainable use in the surrounding landscapes, will conserve biodiversity and assure the required connectivity for key ecosystems and species to adapt to climate change. Adding more value for sustainable timber and non-timber (including aquatic) production chains and strengthening ecosystem services will improve the livelihoods of local communities and indigenous populations, and will conserve key local, national, and global ecosystem services by reducing global GHG emissions, enhancing adaptation for extreme climate change events, and maintaining regional rainfall patterns.
The ASL Program is unique in that each country carries out its own actions while a regional coordination project also provides significant technical assistance and capacity building in themes relevant to their project interventions. By promoting strategic knowledge exchanges and innovations, and increasing partnerships with other regional actors, the coordination project will accelerate learning among all stakeholders. Promoting coordination in key strategic actions will generate outcomes with greater impact than if countries were working in isolation. The scale of the challenges requires a harmonized approach through a regional knowledge and collaboration platform.