There’s hope, despite the worries

By Sheila Mwanundu

The sixth funding cycle of the Global Environment Facility (GEF) is about to begin, with over 31 donor countries pledging US$4.43 billion to support programming over the next four years. Starting 1 July 2014, GEF will focus on catalysing and scaling up innovations in all its defined focal areas namely: Biological diversity, climate change, land degradation, international waters, persistent organic pollutants, ozone layer and mercury. The introduction of the three Integrated Approaches Programs is considered instrumental in keeping the GEF on the leading edge of innovation and enhancing its responsiveness to regional and global issues.

The GEF-5 Assembly in Cancun comes at a significant moment when the international community is called upon to step-up efforts – and to do so very quickly – if the increasing impacts of environmental degradation and climate change on people and the planet are to be effectively addressed. This is of fundamental importance especially to rural people, most of whom are dependent on natural assets for their livelihoods. The situation gets more worrying by the day.

In reflecting back over the previous GEF cycles, one cannot fail to recognise the  accumulated experience and pockets of significant success, but also much remains disturbingly unchanged. One single overwhelming cause for celebration at this GEF Assembly has been the successful replenishment particularly in this period of fiscal austerity. Today, the Russian delegate announced that they would increase their contribution by 50 per cent compared to GEF-5. However, some council members and delegates couldn’t help but note that the range of problems to be addressed deserves way more attention and resources. Concerns were raised on tackling drivers of environmental degradation, project cycle delays, time lag to first disbursement and tracking co-financing ratios.  Some  wondered where does the GEF fit in a changing climate finance landscape? Nonetheless, there is a much greater sense of urgency especially with respect to climate change. Hopefully with the support of the new GEF agencies (these will soon total 14), more opportunities to mobilize and channel innovative approaches and co-finance to countries will result in greater global environmental benefits.

A key recognition of this is IFAD’s Environment and Natural Resource Management Policy, interlinking environmental and climate change challenges. To be effective and efficient the solutions need to be interlinked too. The bonds between the various agriculture sectors and rural poverty have become much more compelling with increased understanding of our development work in countries. Yet for the most part, global efforts to scale up innovative environmental practices and adaptation to climate change remain a challenge (the call for donors to raise the bar to measure environmental and adaptation results provides yet another test of our ability to achieve global environmental benefits). What can be done to invest more in rural people to bring about lasting and profound change to preserve ecosystems and improve livelihoods? I think IFAD should push forward its strapline to invest in rural people, support broad coalitions of committed partners and demonstrate its innovative approaches to achieve transformational behavioral change at scale - not only at the policy and community levels, but also at the level of the household.

While the future and continued significance of GEF as an environmental champion has been assured for another four years, eyes are beginning to turn optimistically to Peru where climate finance discussions will take place later this year at the UN climate change summit in December. Watch this space.