A Brief History of the GEF
The Global Environment Facility is a financial mechanism that promotes international cooperation and fosters actions to protect the global environment. It was created in 1991 as a result of mounting concern in the preceding decade over global environmental problems and efforts to formulate financing responses to address these problems. The GEF operated in a pilot phase until mid-1994. Negotiations to restructure the GEF were concluded at a GEF participants’ meeting in Geneva in March 1994, where representatives of 73 States agreed to the Instrument for the Establishment of the Restructured GEF.
The GEF’s main decision-making body is the GEF Council, which is responsible for developing, adopting and evaluating its operational policies and programs. It is comprised of 32 appointed members – 16 from developing countries, 14 from developed countries and two from among the countries of Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. The Council meets at least every six months. The GEF Assembly comprises representatives from all member states, which as of 8 June 2006 totalled 176. Previous GEF Assemblies were held in New Delhi, India, in 1998 and in Beijing, China, in 2002. The GEF Secretariat services and reports to the Council and the Assembly and coordinates the formulation of the work program, oversees implementation and ensures that operational policies are followed.
The GEF is funded by donor nations, who commit money every four years through a process known as GEF replenishment. The GEF Trust Fund was replenished three times with US$2 billion in 1994, US$2.75 billion in 1998, and with approximately US$3 billion in 2002. Negotiations on the fourth replenishment of the GEF (GEF-4) began in June 2005. Since its establishment, the GEF has allocated over US$6 billion for more than 1,800 projects in 140 developing countries and countries with economies in transition.
The GEF provides grants and concessional funds to complement traditional development assistance by covering the additional or “agreed incremental costs” incurred when a national, regional or global development project also targets global environmental objectives. GEF projects are managed by three implementing agencies: the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) and the World Bank, with the latter also serving as the GEF Trustee. Seven other international organizations, known as GEF Executing Agencies, contribute to the management and delivery of GEF projects.
GEF funding was initially provided to recipient countries for projects and programs in four focal areas: biodiversity, climate change, international waters and ozone layer depletion. In 2002, the second GEF Assembly considered and approved the additional focal areas of land degradation and persistent organic pollutants (POPs). The GEF currently serves as the financial mechanism for four conventions: the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the Stockholm Convention on POPs and the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (CCD).
Country eligibility to receive funding is determined in two ways. Developing countries that have ratified the relevant treaty are eligible to propose biodiversity and climate change projects. Other countries, primarily those with economies in transition, are eligible if the country is a party to the appropriate treaty and is eligible to borrow from the World Bank or to receive technical assistance grants from UNDP. GEF projects must deliver global benefits, be country-driven, incorporate consultation with local communities and, where appropriate, involve NGOs in project implementation.
Held every four years, the GEF Assembly gathers ministers and high-level officials from GEF member States to review the policies and operations of the GEF.
First GEF Assembly:
Held from 1-3 April 1998 in New Delhi, India, the first GEF Assembly focused on the GEF in the 21st century. More than 1,000 participants adopted the New Delhi Statement highlighting the GEF’s unique role and calling upon it to accelerate its operations. more than 1,000 leaders from governments, international institutions, and non-governmental organizations attended the three-day meeting, representing 119 of 164 states then participating in the GEF, including one head of state and 40 ministers. Representatives of 16 international organizations and 185 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) also took part.
In addition to considering a number of key agenda items and reports on GEF's operations and policies, assembly participants attended parallel panels and workshops featuring prominent environmentalists, parliamentarians, business leaders, scientists, and NGO organizers. These events focused on sustainable development initiatives, particularly in India; the linkages between science, development, and environmental concerns.
Second GEF Assembly:
Convened from 16-18 October 2002 in Beijing, China, the second GEF Assembly considered the GEF’s performance, operations and policies, convening in plenary, roundtables and panel sessions focusing on the GEF, its stakeholders and the global environment. Over 1,200 participants attended the Assembly, representing 127 countries, 24 intergovernmental organizations and 134 NGOs. Participants adopted the Beijing Declaration, which supports the expanded mandate of the GEF in response to its evolving challenges, and calls, inter alia, for: assistance in the implementation of the outcomes of the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD); enhanced activities at the country level; synergies among the global environmental conventions; enhanced strategic planning for allocation of scarce resources to high priority areas within and among focal areas to maximize global environmental improvement; better private sector engagement; and improved understanding of agreed incremental costs and the global benefits of GEF projects.
Third GEF Assembly:
Convened from 29-30 August 2006 in Cape Town, South Africa, addressed inter alia: reports on the GEF Trust Fund; the fourth replenishment of the GEF Trust Fund; and the third Overall Performance Study of the GEF. The Assembly is also expected to discuss the report of the Scientific and Technical Advisory Panel, and address amendments to the GEF Instrument. Several high-level roundtables and numerous side events will be held in conjunction with the Assembly. Over 1,200 participants attended the Assembly, representing governments, UN agencies, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), academia and the private sector.
For the first time a consultative forum organized by the GEF NGO Network was held: Turning Policy into Reality:
From the Ground Up, ensuring the centrality of civil society in the GEF and providing the opportunity for constructive dialogue between policymakers and civil society. Participants discussed an array of issues around involving all stakeholders, including women, in community consultations; the importance of legal frameworks that account for the rights and prior informed consent of local communities; and local concerns about the activities of foreign-funded NGOs. Emphasis was put on the need to link top-down and bottom-up decision-making processes so as to “turn policy into reality from the ground up”.
AVHRR Satellite Composite: 26 Aug 1993 (Image from SSEC: UW-Madison)