30 years ago, the Rio Earth Summit marked a major turning point for the planet. The countries came together in a central alliance against climate change, which led to the formation of core UN agencies dealing with various environmental challenges.
Recognizing the large amount of funding their efforts would require, a multilateral trust fund was also set up whose job would be to funnel funding from wealthy countries and institutions to the developing world and small businesses that need it most. The Global Environment Facility, or “GEF” for short, has committed and mobilized more than $140 billion in this way to date, and is “replenished” from time to time with outside investment to continue its work.
In April of this year, the GEF received its eighth top-up in a record amount, increasing its funding by 30 percent and greatly improving its ability to fund worthy environmental initiatives. At the 15th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD COP15) in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, Landscape News spoke to GEF CEO and Chair Carlos Manuel Rodriguez about what that money means.
The GEF just received a $5.25 billion raise.
And it could add up to $5.5 billion in a few months. There are a few key donors who haven’t made any commitments yet, but they’re working on it internally.
How are these funds used?
The funds are used differently than before. For many years we have financially supported countries in their efforts to implement measures of the Rio Conventions, but with measures that corresponded directly to their mandates. So you had countries running projects on climate projects, biodiversity projects and land degradation. But we know the climate and biodiversity benefits of dealing with drought, and the same is true for degradation, restoration, land use planning and so on. And countries are making progress in their environmental efforts. So to optimize GEF resources and have a greater impact, we are moving in a more integrated manner and allowing countries more flexibility.
We also want to expand our small grant program, which increases funding for civil society organizations. We want to grow in terms of agencies, in terms of scope and especially in terms of understanding of the very important role that non-state actors have. In terms of our private sector engagement strategy, we would like to engage more with small and medium-sized enterprises, not only with grants, but also through the non-grant instrument.
And we’re also moving toward more impactful programs that have worked a lot in cities, large forest biomes, food security, and land management and restoration. Now we are bringing in many new impact programs, ranging from waste and plastics to blue economy and small islands.
How do you think that figure of $5.25 billion compares to countries’ current spending on other issues, such as conflict?
Let me compare that amount to what countries invest in destroying nature, not in war — although, yes, that’s obvious and big. But one of the most unknown elements of global contradictions is that there is no country on this planet that invests more public or private resources in mitigating climate change by protecting nature than it invests in destroying it. This is what we call political incoherence.
Yes, of course I’m very concerned about the issues of war and defense. I am from Costa Rica, a country that abolished the army 75 years ago and I have seen what happened in my country when not a single dollar was invested in defense and army related activities: increasing social rights policies and other related ones Investments, like in human development standards, in education, in health care. And we saw the benefit of it in our efforts to manage our natural resources.
I am very sensitive on this issue as I am very concerned that we invest far, far more often in activities that destroy the planet than in those that help it. Aware of this, the GEF aims to become an agent of change to balance the way we invest at the country level. In a decade, we aspire for all countries to have the right policies and frameworks in place to balance public and private investment with their contributions to the Paris Agreement, land degradation neutrality and biodiversity conservation. That’s the ultimate goal we want. So yes, $5.25 billion is just a drop in the ocean. But this drop can have a lot of power if we know which buttons to press. And policy coherence is an important one.
You were previously Minister of the Environment of Costa Rica and during that time you have partnered with Côte d’Ivoire to share insights on forest conservation. How do you see the results here in Côte d’Ivoire now?
This country has lost 80 percent of its forest – President Ouattara said yesterday. And in a way, I feel like this society feels a little bit hopeless. But my country has also lost 80 percent of its forest and in two or three decades we have been able to restore it and only the trained eye of an expert can tell that the forests are new. This recovery has given us the opportunity to be more resilient to climate change, have environmental services back, have water resilience, recover biodiversity, and create our largest industry, nature-based tourism. So those who really say that the restoration will bring a high return are absolutely right.
Costa Rica is not that different from many developing countries. We haven’t always had a great time, and we’re not good at planning or saving. But we are very flexible, very innovative and have political stability. And that’s why Côte d’Ivoire and others are looking to us. It’s good to be here.