I first engaged with the Global Environment Facility (GEF) in 1994 as part of the evaluation team for the GEF pilot phase― a US$1 billion pilot hosted by the World Bank that began in 1991, prior to the Rio Earth Summit. In May, along with a small group of World Bank colleagues, I found myself at the Fourth GEF Assembly in Punta del Este, Uruguay. In reflecting back over the intervening time period I find nuggets of success, but also much remains disturbingly unchanged.
The single overwhelming cause for celebration has been the announcement―dramatically achieved only a few weeks ago―of a GEF replenishment of more than 50% to US$4.2 billion (US$3.5 billion in new funding). Any increase is obviously welcomed in a period of fiscal austerity, and most government representatives understandably expressed congratulations. However, a few couldn’t help but note that the increase was disturbingly small if measured by the increase in the range of problems to be addressed. There is a much greater sense of urgency (especially with respect to climate change), and many more agencies involved in channeling funds (originally only the World Bank, the UN Development Programme (UNDP), and the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), and now there are more than 10).