IFAD streamlining its environmental and social standards to a common UN approach

The UN Environment Management Group (EMG) established three new work streams under the “Consultative Process on Advancing the Environmental and Social Sustainability in the UN system“. This was basically a call for UN agencies to work towards a common approach to environmental and social policies and standards in its work.

Many UN agencies are currently in the process of developing or rolling out their own social and environmental policies and procedures into their projects and programmes. In order for all UN agencies to go forward in joint or co-financed projects, they must build towards a common UN-wide safeguards system. A common approach reflects the UN's commitment to support country partners to implement their duties and obligations under international conventions and environmental agreements.

IFAD is committed to enhancing environmental sustainability and resilience in small-scale agriculture in all of its projects and programmes. Promoting a focus on the sustainable use of natural resources and providing livelihoods for rural people that are more resilient to climate change, environmental degradation and market transformation is at the core of delivering IFAD's poverty reduction and sustainable agriculture mandate.

IFAD launched its new Social, Environmental and Climate Assessment Procedures (SECAP) in 2015 which address the social, environmental and climate impacts associated with its projects and programmes and bring it in line with other UN agencies. These include a range of issues, from relocation, dams and finance to indigenous rights. It also launched a Complaints Procedure to receive and facilitate resolution of environmental and social concerns in the context of its-supported programmes.

The UN system operates in areas of constantly increasing and shifting levels of risk, impact, and conflict. This makes it all the more imperative that robust safety measures are in place to avoid or alleviate harm to people and the environment. Based on this shared need, there are a number of benefits to developing a common approach to safeguards. Several of these agencies highlighted that if we don’t move towards a more common approach, we may face challenges of policy coherence due to different standards in projects and programmes.

A major benefit to the shared approach is that the UN will be seen to be ''Delivering as One''. The principles of the UN are always put into practice in its projects and in order to avoid different environmental and social safeguards/procedures being implemented simultaneously, sometimes within the same project, a common approach is needed.

Another benefit is that this would enable shared training, learning, and guidance materials benefitting from relevant expertise from across the system to be used by all agencies. With a common framework, the implementation of projects would become easier. Different agencies would then be able to pool resources and relevant expertise to jointly screen, assess and manage potential social and environmental impacts and jointly handle grievances related to UN country programming where possible.

With development funding becoming more and more scarce, and constrained, agencies that can actively demonstrate that they are ''fit for purpose'' in helping countries achieve their sustainable development goals are more likely to get funding and create projects. IFAD is already publicly showing that it is conforming with the international norms and best practices through its SECAP. A common approach will help to ensure continued access to financing that is increasingly tied to social and environmental safeguard and accountability policies (e.g. Green Climate Fund, Global Environment Facility, Adaptation Fund, bilaterals). Having a shared approach can also translate into increased international recognition and reputational value for IFAD and the UN as a whole.