Third Assembly of the Global Environment Facility, August 2006


Third GEF Assembly, Cape Town, South Africa,
28-30 August 2006

The Third Assembly of the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and associated meetings took place in Cape Town, South Africa, 28th - 30th August 2006. The GEF Assembly is a pre-eminent forum of environment and development experts and it attracted high-level representatives from the GEF's 176 member countries, as well as environmentalists, leading development practitioners, the private sector and civil society. The Ramsar Convention is an invited observer to the GEF Council and was represented at the Third Assembly by Paul Mafabi, Assistant Commissioner for Wetlands in Uganda and Chair of the Ramsar Standing Committee. His report outlines the main outcomes of the meeting, the next steps, and implications for the Ramsar Convention.

Opening of the meeting

The GEF was officially opened by HE Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Deputy President of the Republic of South Africa, and was also addressed by HE Martinus van Schalkwyk, Minister of Environmental Affairs, HE Ebrahim Rasool, Premier of the Western Cape, and Ms Monique Barbut, CEO and Chairperson of GEF. The opening ceremony also featured cultural events by the Western Cape Province and a video film titled: "GEF: A Partner with Nations to Nurture the Earth".

Plenary sessions

The plenary session began with the appointment of HE Trevor Manuel, Minister of Finance of the Republic of South Africa, as chair of the GEF Assembly. Delegates also elected Anne Margareth Stenhammer, Norway's State Secretary, and Roberto Dobles Mora, Costa Rica's Minister of Energy and Environment, as Vice-Chairs. The opening plenary was also addressed by representatives of GEF partners who included implementing agencies (UNEP, UNDP, and the World Bank); conventions served by GEF (CBD, CCD, UNFCC); Executing Agencies (UNIDO and FAO); and the GEF NGO Network. The opening plenary also considered reports on GEF membership, the GEF Trust Fund, and GEF-4; amendment of the Instrument; evidence of the achievements and challenges of the GEF; emerging scientific and technological issues and gaps; and statements on behalf of constituencies and ministers.

Side events

There were several side events, which dealt with the following topics among others:

  • Third overall performance study of GEF;
  • Sustainable transport;
  • Enhancing partnerships through NGO engagement;
  • Delivering global benefits in subsaharan Africa through community-based investments;
  • Lessons learnt in mobilising sustainable financing for protected areas;
  • National strategies for sustainable development platforms for local action.

I attended the side events on Third overall performance study of GEF and the one on enhancing partnerships through NGO engagement.

Roundtable discussions

On Wednesday, three high-level roundtables were held in the morning on: market-based mechanisms for financing global environmental conventions; climate change mitigation and adaptation; and identifying national priorities and allocating resources to enhance results at the country level.

Market-based mechanisms for financing global environmental conventions, Co-Chaired by Thomas Kolly, Switzerland, and Achim Steiner, UNEP Executive Director, noted, inter alia, that: the private sector is chiefly concerned with profitability, but market mechanisms can enhance environmental management; demand- and supply-side factors need to be considered together; the GEF and its partners can assist in removing market barriers; it is a challenge to ensure that markets are open and transparent; and a change in attitude is needed to ensure that market mechanisms complement "command and control" systems

Climate change: mitigation and adaptation, Co-chaired by Elizabeth Thompson, Minister of Energy and Environment of Barbados, and Corrado Clini, Director General, Italy's Ministry of Environment and Territory, highlighted the interactive discussion on a number of issues, during which participants proposed, among other things, that climate variability and hazards should be a focus of GEF-4 and beyond, and climate change needs to be mainstreamed. The roundtable also noted that the overall replenishment is too low and that the State needs to play a crucial role to ensure money is properly invested.

Identifying national priorities and allocating resources to enhance results at the country level, Co-chaired by Roger Ehrhardt, Canadian International Development Agency, and Li Yong, China's Vice Minister of Finance, identified the need for cross-sectoral coordination; highlighted the need for institutional capacity building; and lamented the inadequacy of resources.

On the Resource Allocation Framework (RAF), the roundtable noted the common concerns, including: delays in project implementation; the cumbersome GEF project cycle; capacity constraints; the lower importance of marine resources in the biodiversity indicators; and lack of transparency and GEF Assembly involvement in the RAF development process. The roundtable made several suggestions, including: developing a vulnerability index; streamlining relationships between the GEF and conventions; developing a special programme for SIDS; and involving NGOs in the RAF's mid-term review.

Summary of the Assembly and Closing Session

The Summary of the third GEF Assembly sums up the discussions and actions taken by the Assembly according to agenda items. It covers: the opening session; election of the Chair and Vice-Chairs; adoption of the agenda and organization of work; statements by GEF partners; reports on GEF membership, the GEF Trust Fund, and GEF-4; amendment of the Instrument; evidence of the achievements and challenges of the GEF; emerging scientific and technological issues and gaps; statements on behalf of constituencies and ministers; high-level roundtables and oral presentation to plenary of their highlights; report on credentials; presentation of the Chair's Summary; and closing of the Assembly.

The Summary highlights the following issues which arose from ministerial and constituency statements:

  • concerns over the inadequacy of GEF-4 to meet the GEF's mandate;
  • proposals for a review of GEF governance, including turning the Assembly into the highest decision-making body of the GEF;
  • concerns about the impact of the RAF on smaller, vulnerable countries, and requests for a separate allocation, additional to the indicative country allocations, for countries with smaller economies;
  • proposals to more comprehensively take into account countries' vulnerability, national priorities, and both terrestrial and marine natural resources;
  • requests to amend the GEF Instrument to reflect the GEF's designation as a financial mechanism of the CCD, and appreciation for the Council's commitment to implement such an amendment in good faith pending a formal adoption by the next Assembly, if the Council in December 2006 agrees on it;
  • requests for the GEF to actively implement a private sector strategy during GEF-4;
  • proposals to prioritize the needs and vulnerability of least developed countries; and
  • concerns over the particular vulnerability of SIDS and requests for greater support to SIDS.

The Assembly was officially closed by the Chair HE Trevor Manuel, who drew attention to the 24 side events held in conjunction with the meeting, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu's visit to launch The Desmond Tutu Peace Centre. He thanked delegates for traveling from around the world to work collectively for the benefit of the environment.

The closing session was also addressed by GEF CEO/Chair Barbut who noted that the Assembly had highlighted the strengths and weaknesses of the Instrument and provided a forum for an exchange of views. She acknowledged the calls for increased funding and undertook to work towards increasing the GEF budget.

Main outcomes of the GEF Assembly

The following were some of the main outcomes of the Third GEF Assembly.

  • The Assembly approved the replenishment of the GEF 3 to a tune of US$ 3.1bn dollars with contributions from 32 countries.
  • The Assembly also endorsed the Resource Allocation Facility but requested a separate allocation, additional to country allocations, for countries with small economies.
  • Italy pledged an additional Euro1 million to the Least Developed Countries Fund and Euro10 million to the Special Climate Change Fund, and promised support to GEF and South Africa in the 2010 World Cup sustainable transportation programme. France pledged a further Euro 10 million for the LDCF.
  • Report on GEF Membership presented by Patricia Bliss-Guest, GEF, noting that since the completion of the report, the Republic of Montenegro has become the 177th member of the GEF.
  • Report on the GEF Trust Fund presented by Pamela Crivelli of the World Bank, noting that it is the largest trust fund managed by the World Bank, and welcoming South Africa as the GEF's 38th donor. She also advised that the World Bank's Board of Directors will discuss GEF-4 at its meeting on 10 October 2006.
  • The report on GEF-4 presented by GEF CEO/Chair Barbut commended developing and developed country donors for contributing to the highest replenishment of the GEF Trust Fund in terms of total pledged resources. She stressed that the replenishment package approved by the Council is also a roadmap to guide the GEF's evolution in the next four years in accordance with the annexed policy recommendations and programming document.
  • The next formal meeting of the GEF Council will take place in December 2006 at a venue to be determined by the GEF Secretariat.

Conclusions and the way forward

The GEF Assembly was certainly a very useful forum for discussing and sharing views and strengthening synergies for protecting the global environment and promoting the sustainable development agenda. Although I did not get an opportunity to address the assembly, due to the nature of the programme and status of Ramsar, I gained a good understanding of the GEF and its operations.

The relationship between Ramsar and GEF has been discussed several times and has been a subject of Ramsar COP Resolutions, including those of COP9, which was held in Kampala in November 2005. Parties to the last Ramsar COP were emphatic that they wished to see greater synergy between conventions, especially between Ramsar and CBD, UNCCD and UNFCCC.

Whilst GEF is not a financial mechanism for the Ramsar Convention per se, its role with other conventions with which Ramsar has agreements or memoranda of cooperation could be to help develop these synergies. Indeed Ramsars' future developments should focus on better wetland management to achieve both biodiversity and water quality aims, in light of the 2010 biodiversity countdown.

Some recommendations

  • The work of the Scientific and Technical Review Panel (STRP) will focus during the next three years on groundwater, and we should urge GEF to actively support and fund projects which deal with the groundwater issue.
  • We should encourage the GEF secretariat to develop a memorandum of cooperation with the Ramsar Convention Secretariat to increase information flow, and thus cooperation and synergy, and would hope GEF Council could support the development of such a MoC. In particular the Ramsar Convention Secretariat should work with the GEF Secretariat to help energise the process of integrating wetland issues into the GEF sectors of action including Biodiversity, International Waters, Land Degradation, and Climate Change.
  • We should strengthen engagement with the Biodiversity Liaison Group, linking all five biodiversity-related conventions as a mechanism to make delivery of the conventions more effective.
  • We should inform and encourage the Contracting Parties to prioritize wetland issues into the Resource Allocation Facility within each of the eligible Parties.
  • We should integrate wetland issues into the network of protected areas.
  • We should organize events to target the 2010 biodiversity countdown

Paul Mafabi
Assistant Commissioner, Wetlands Inspection Division, Uganda
Chair, Ramsar Convention Standing Committee

14 September 2006

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