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Thirty years ago, the Rio Earth Summit marked a major turning point for the planet. Countries came together in a pivotal alliance against climate change, leading to the formation of core UN agencies tackling different environmental challenges.

In prescience of the ample funding their efforts would require, a multilateral trust fund was also established, whose job it would be to channel finance from wealthy countries and institutions to the developing nations and small enterprises that need it most. The Global Environment Facility, called by its acronym “the GEF,” has so far provided and mobilized more than USD 140 billion in this manner, and every so often, it is “replenished” with external investment in order to continue its work.

In April of this year, the GEF received its eighth replenishment at a record amount that increased its funding by 30 percent, substantially enhancing its ability to finance worthy environmental initiatives. Alongside the 15th Conference of the Parties to the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD COP15) in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, Landscape News spoke with the GEF CEO and chairperson Carlos Manuel Rodriguez about what this money means.

The GEF just received a replenishment of USD 5.25 billion.

And it can turn out to be USD 5.5 billion in a couple of months. There are a couple of important donors that were unable to pledge yet, but they are working on that internally.

How will this funding be used?

The funding will be used in a different way than in the past. For many years, we financially supported countries in their efforts to implement actions in the Rio Conventions, but on actions that responded directly to their mandates. So you had countries doing projects on climate projects, on biodiversity projects, on land degradation. But we know the climate and biodiversity benefits of dealing with droughts, and the same for degradation, restoration, land-use planning and so on. And, countries are advancing in their environmental efforts. So to optimize the GEF resources and have higher impact, we are moving in a more integrated manner and allowing countries more flexibility.

We also want to grow our small grant program, which increases finance to civil society organizations. We want to grow in terms of the agencies, in terms of the scope, and particularly in terms of the understanding of the very important role that non-state actors do have. Regarding our private sector engagement strategy, we’re looking 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 impact programs, which have so far worked a lot in cities, large forest biomes, food security, and land management and restoration. Now we are bringing in many new impact programs, dealing with waste and plastics all the way to blue economy and small islands.

In Hoi An, Vietnam, the Global Environment Facility has helped reduce waste and pollution in order to support the local blue economy. Global Environment Facility
In Hoi An, Vietnam, the Global Environment Facility has helped reduce waste and pollution in order to support the local blue economy. Global Environment Facility

What do you make of the USD 5.25 billion amount in comparison to what we see countries spending on other issues, such as conflict, at the moment?

Let me compare this amount to what countries invest in destroying nature, not war – though that is, yes, evident and big. But one of the most unknown elements of global inconsistencies is that there is no country on this planet that invests more public or private resources in mitigating climate change by protecting nature than what they invest in destroying it. This is what we call policy incoherence.

Yes, of course I am super concerned about the issues regarding war and defense. I come from Costa Rica, a country that 75 years ago abolished the army, and I saw what happened in my country when there is not a single dollar invested in defense and army-related activities: increases in social rights policies and other related investments, such as in human development standards, in education, in healthcare. And we saw the benefit on that in our effort to manage our natural resources.

I’m very sensitive on this issue as I’m very concerned that we invest many, many more times in activities that destroy the planet than in those that help it. So being conscious of that, the GEF wants to become a driving force of change in terms of balancing how we do investments at the country level. In a decade from now, we’re aiming for all countries to have the right policies and frameworks so that public and private investment can align with their contributions to the Paris Agreement, land degradation neutrality and biodiversity conservation. This is the ultimate objective that we want. So, yes, USD 5.25 billion is just a drop in the bucket. But that drop can have a lot of power if we know which buttons we should be hitting. And policy coherence is one important one.

Members of the Sociedad Cooperativa Melitz'aak, a group of Mayan women entrepreneurs who were supported by a GEF grant to grow their business selling honey-based medicinal and beauty products. Global Environment Facility
Members of the Sociedad Cooperativa Melitz’aak, a group of Mayan women entrepreneurs who were supported by a GEF grant to grow their business selling honey-based medicinal and beauty products. Global Environment Facility

You previously served as the environment minister of Costa Rica, and during that time, you partnered with Côte d’Ivoire to share learnings on forest conservation. How do you see the outcomes here in Côte d’Ivoire now?

This country has lost 80 percent of its forest – this is what President Ouattara said yesterday. And in a sense, I feel that this society feels a bit hopeless. But my country also lost 80 percent of its forest, and in a matter of two or three decades, we were able to restore it, and only the trained eye of an expert can tell that the forests are new. This restoration has given us the possibility to be more resilient to climate change, to have environmental services again, to have water resiliency, to have biodiversity return, and to create our biggest industry, which is nature-based tourism. So those who really say there’s a high return on restoration are totally correct.

Costa Rica is not that different to many developing countries. We didn’t always have a great time, and we’re not good in planning or saving money. But we are very flexible, very innovative, and we have political stability. And that is why Côte d’Ivoire and others look to us. It’s good to be here.

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