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GEF Council provides boost to nature protection amid pandemic

December 11, 2020

Hummingbirds at a flower in Costa Rica
The GEF Council moved this week to financially support countries seeking to protect nature and tackle environmental priorities. Photo: Ondrej Prosicky/Shutterstock

In a virtual meeting, representatives of the Global Environment Facility’s 184 member countries moved this week to financially support countries seeking to protect nature and tackle environmental priorities amid the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, and endorsed new approaches to engage with the private sector and confront future zoonotic disease risks.

The 59th meeting of the GEF Council and 29th meeting of the Least Developed Countries Fund (LDCF) and Special Climate Change Fund (SCCF) Council included extensive discussion of the coronavirus, whose spread has made it hard for many governments to prioritize environmental action including the protection and restoration of nature and climate change adaptation amid rising health and economic costs.

Carlos Manuel Rodriguez, who took over as GEF CEO and Chairperson in September, said laying the groundwork for a green recovery was the multilateral trust fund’s top priority.

“Faced with COVID-19 and multiple environmental threats, this past year has been a particularly difficult one and challenging for all of us. However, when we look back in years to come, I truly believe that 2020, despite the suffering it unleashed on all of us, will be seen as the year where we took a decision, the proper decision, and a turning point happened,” he said.

“I believe that the only way forward is to invest in nature and focus on a green recovery to prevent not just future pandemics but as well to prepare ourselves to fight ongoing environmental threats such as climate change, and biodiversity collapse.”

Since the pandemic began, the GEF has been working closely with its government and implementing agency partners to ensure continuity of support, and to ensure that vital projects and programs can keep advancing through this crisis. Discussions are also ramping up with United Nations conventions ahead of international negotiations on climate change, biodiversity, and more in 2021.

The GEF Council endorsed a new private sector engagement strategy outlining how the GEF will work in a systematic way with industry groups, companies, and investors, toward these same goals. It also heard from the GEF Scientific and Technical Advisory Panel (STAP) and Independent Evaluation Office (IEO) about their recent work and adaptations related to the pandemic, and endorsed the GEF Monitoring Report 2020, which tracked progress toward generating global environment benefits even amid pandemic-related implementation challenges.

“In times of collective hardship, the solidity of GEF’s partnership institutions and its commitment to effective multilateral action have once more proven to be vital assets,” Françoise Clottes, GEF Director of Strategy and Operations, said. “Much mutual trust was demonstrated, during Council, to strike the right balance between securing continuity of operations, sustaining focus on results and efficiency of delivery, and providing flexibility where most needed.”

Council members approved a $409.2 million work program designed with COVID-19 in mind, offering urgent assistance to 87 of the world’s most vulnerable countries. They also discussed the pandemic’s impact on project management, and a new GEF COVID-19 Task Force’s white paper published ahead of the meetings outlined ways environmental action can reduce future disease outbreak threats.

The new work program approved on Friday is expected to directly benefit more than 25 million people in project areas while generating global environmental benefits related to biodiversity, climate change, land degradation, international waters, and chemicals and waste. It targets countries most in need in Africa and Asia, spanning 32 least developed countries and 19 small island developing states.

“Many of the projects and programs included in this work program will contribute to the mitigation of impacts emerging from the pandemic,” said Gustavo Fonseca, GEF Director of Programs. “From promoting nature-based solutions, to supporting local communities with alternate revenue streams, to incorporating green recovery principles in projects, these actions will not only help in avoiding future pandemics but also bring some relief to important local stakeholders in these difficult times.”

Projects with specific COVID-related adaptations include initiatives related to mangroves for climate resilience in Benin; biosafety in southern Africa; access and benefit-sharing of the Nagoya Protocol in The Gambia; chemicals management in the Philippines; climate security and natural resource management in Mali; integrated landscape management in the Bahamas; sea turtles and seagrass habitats in Madagascar; wildlife conservation management in China; land degradation in Azerbaijan; biodiversity and ecosystem services in Chile; and livelihoods and landscapes in Lesotho. The work program also includes a blended finance project related to off-grid energy in Africa and an extension of the Food Systems, Land Use and Restoration Impact Program to include Madagascar.

The new projects and programs will be implemented by 12 GEF Agencies: the African Development Bank (AfDB), Asian Development Bank (ADB), Conservation International, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Inter-American Development Bank (IADB), International Fund for Agriculture Development (IFAD), International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), UN Development Programme (UNDP), UN Environment Programme (UNEP), UN Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), the World Bank, and WWF - US. In light of recent findings by the UNDP Office of Audit and Investigations, all projects in the new work program to be implemented by UNDP will undergo additional review as part of their approval process.

The work program adopted this week includes 62 projects and programs and mobilizes $2.1 billion in co-financing, of which $1.4 billion of investment mobilized. It is the fifth work program to be considered under GEF-7, the trust fund’s latest four-year funding cycle that ends in June 2022, whose aggregate operational roll-out to date is summarized in the December 2020 GEF Corporate Scorecard.

The GEF Council also agreed to begin discussions about the next replenishment round, GEF-8, which Rodriguez said would be “the green recovery cycle.”

“This is what I firmly believe we should be concentrated on. It’s a matter of urgency,” he said.

Immediately following the GEF Council meeting, was the 29th Council meeting of the Least Developed Countries Fund (LDCF) and Special Climate Change Fund (SCCF), two GEF-administered funds focused on helping the world’s poorest countries to increase their resilience and adapt to climate change.

The Council members approved a $64 million LDCF work program comprising of nine projects, including three multi-trust fund projects that combine resources with the GEF.

The new LDCF work program was developed during the COVID-19 pandemic and came about as a result of significant collaboration between recipient countries, GEF Agencies, and other partners. It spans eight countries – Afghanistan, Benin, Burundi, Haiti, Mali, Nepal, Senegal, and Sierra Leone – whose people and ecosystems are facing increased risk and vulnerability as a result of the coronavirus. The projects aim to address climate adaptation needs while also supporting livelihoods, prioritizing gender equality, promoting innovation, and protecting ecosystems that are foundations of economic growth.

Donors including Belgium, Finland, Switzerland, and Qatar which is in the process of finalizing its participation in the GEF, announced new pledges to the LDCF at the Council meeting, in support of its continued work.

“What science tells us is clear. To keep the Paris Agreement temperature goal within reach and to protect global biodiversity, enhanced consistent international commitment is crucial,” Jean-Arthur Regibeau, Ambassador of Belgium to the United States, told the session. “Today I am happy to announce an additional multi-annual contribution of 20 million euros to the fund, to be disbursed over four years. More is yet to come as our government intends to enhance its climate action and we hope to announce additional funding to the LDC Fund next year."

Finland announced 5 million euros to the LDCF, Switzerland pledged an additional 700,000 Swiss francs, and Qatar pledged $500,000 – its first contribution to the LDCF as a new donor to the fund. “We are looking forward to amplify our partnership with the GEF and LDCF,” said Rwodah Al Naimi of the Qatar Fund for Development. 

All the decisions adopted at both Council meetings can be found in the relevant Summary of the Chair: 59th GEF Council and 29th LDCF/SCCF Council.