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by Sheila  Mwanundu and Marie Clarisse Chanoine

The Multilateral Financial Institutions Working Group on Environment (MFI-WGE), was conceived in the late 70’s by MFI directors.  The Group’s work is seen within the perspective of high expectations in the development community to see substantive progress in reducing transaction costs, strengthen capacity, and improve development effectiveness and borrower practices through harmonizing donor policies, procedures and practices information on recent developments on environment. Environment is referred to in a broader sense which includes bio-physical, social, economic, biological and cultural inheritance aspects. The working group reflects the post-Rio approach of embedding environmental and social impacts into risk management.

The Multilateral Financial Institutions Working Group on Environment (MFI-WGE), of which IFAD is a member,  is convened twice a year and hosted by the different MFIs on a rotational basis. This year, IFAD had the pleasure to host the Spring meeting and to welcome Environmental managers and responsible of several institutions such as African Development Bank, Black Sea Trade and Development, Department For International Development,  European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, Eurasian Development Bank, European Investment Bank, Inter-American Development Bank, International Finance Corporation, Japan International Cooperation Agency Nordic Investment Bank, Nordic Environment Finance Cooperation and World Bank.

The meeting, which took place on April 24-26 2013, has been an opportunity for these institutions to share experiences and lessons learned from their interventions in a refreshingly informal and honest environment. The focus was primarily on new trends related to climate change, environmental and social issues and safeguards in each institution, and the identification of practical areas of cooperation that would ultimately make a difference in the operations -on the ground- of the respective institutions. It was recognised by all members that environmental and social impacts are entwined and should be considered into the programme/project cycles  using qualified technical specialists. Thus, in-depth discussions covered environmental impacts as well as social impacts (including resettlement, indigenous peoples’ issues,  participation of local communities and vulnerable groups).

At this meeting, there was no shortage of talks, spanning the urgent need for an integrated approach to safeguards, to greater focus on human rights, to timely and targeted response to climate change through the use of satellite data. A major focus of this 3-day workshop was the review of  environmental policy development of various member institutions.

The group discussed about Cross-cutting issues in policy updating, including Performance Standards, Use of Country Systems and Innovations, especially in Medium Income Countries.

Special focus has been given to crosscutting topics such as gender, LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender),  Indigenous People, land tenure, and sharing of guidelines while co-financing same projects. We had also an opportunity to introduce Adaptation for Smallholder Agriculture Programme (ASAP) which is a major new climate funding stream for a comprehensive integration of climate and environment into wider policies of IFAD. As climate change is transforming the context of our work, it has become central to our mission and must be a big part of our institutional future.

Moreover, the working group on environment discussed about how to invest in technologies to reduce black carbon, that is a short lived climate pollutants produced by incomplete combustion of fossil fuel and biomass.  Climate finance and Green Economy have been mentioned throughout the meeting. For several members, there is a need to unite science and climate change practical strategy.

The World Bank shared the findings of  first phase of surveys throughout the world in various country  such as Canada, Argentina, Egypt, Kazakhstan, Ivory Coast, Indonesia amidst many  others.  Further to an agreement that there is a need for modernization of the Bank’s policies, the aim of the consultations is to consider whether and how the World Bank can address emerging areas in new safeguards. This was an essential topic as several institutional safeguards have been inspired by Word Bank model.

Related discussions focused on how to deal with projects which don’t respect environmental  standards, how to give a rapid response to damages caused by projects, and finally how to deal with countries who don’t want transparency.

Sustainable development goals triggered a lively debate among participants, who were concerned by the need to limit the numbers of goals in order to address them appropriately. They also stressed that multilateral institutions should create better environmental sustainability indicators. Yet, among this abundance of information and analysis, one presentation struck all for its clear headedness in assessing the challenges of achieving real change in environmental sustainability in IFAD. Moreover, Independent Office Evaluation (IOE) gave details on Environmental and Natural Resources Management (ENRM) Progress of IFAD Operations. ENRM is one of five rural poverty impact domains and the weakest impact areas. Its evaluation focus on the extent to which a project or programme contributes to changes in the protection, rehabilitation or depletion of natural resources and the environment. IOE recognised that IFAD had taken significant steps to improve its ENRM performance since 2002 but it’s too early to assess climate change impacts. Actually, achieving large scale positive environmental impacts remains a challenge.

The meeting concluded with a  visit to  the European Space Agency (ESA) in Frascati, where the Group learnt how satellite information can be used for various purposes such as vulnerability assessments and weather forecasting. The Group was honoured to meet the Italian Astronaut, Paolo Nespoli, who delivered a 3D presentation on life in space.

The meetings have proved useful, in terms of discussing issues of common interest and exchanging information on best practices   The principles and best practices in harmonisation are progressively being integrated into the Fund’s environmental assessment process. IFAD should continue to pursue these objectives consistent with its specific mandate – enabling the rural poor to overcome their poverty. The next meeting will be hosted by the Asian Development Bank in Fall 2013 in Manila, Philippines.

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