IUCN and the Global Environment Facility – celebrating a 25-year partnership

As part of the institutional architecture created to fulfil the vision of the 1992 Earth Summit, outlined in Agenda 21, the Global Environment Facility (GEF) has made an enormous contribution to environmental protection and nature conservation.

Waterfall in Paksong district, Lao PDR

One of GEF’s main challenges relates to the notion of ‘global environmental benefits’ which it aims to catalyse. Where exactly is the boundary between national and global benefits for issues such as biodiversity conservation and climate change that transcend national borders? And how do we tackle global environmental challenges that lie beyond national jurisdiction? These are questions that GEF has been a pioneer in addressing, and in so doing, has energised the global debate on conservation, sustainable development and the global commons. 

IUCN has had a long and productive involvement with GEF, primarily through our support for governments as executing partners for GEF-funded projects. We have worked with our State Members in more than 60 countries in their efforts to develop National Conservation Strategies and Biodiversity Action Plans.

For 25 years IUCN has helped leverage GEF resources to conserve biodiversity using its technical depth and conservation knowledge, gathered through, for example, the World Database on Protected Areas and the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. This has resulted in the effective management of protected areas – terrestrial, inland water and marine. These efforts were celebrated at the IUCN World Parks Congress in 2014 in Australia, where GEF played a pivotal role in seeking solutions for financing protected areas. The GEF-supported Promise of Sydney shows how protected area solutions are being used to address a range of challenges, from climate change to economic recession.

GEF was one of the first few funding mechanisms to support transboundary ecosystem management, working, for example, with countries sharing the Mekong river basin or promoting sustainability of the W-Arly-Pendjari (WAP) protected area system shared by Burkina Faso, Benin and Niger. The results encouraged OECD donors to also support transboundary conservation.

To date, the SOS - Save Our Species grant-making initiative, established by IUCN, GEF and the World Bank has supported 109 projects and 78 NGOs in 68 countries working to protect 250 threatened plant and animal species for which threats and conservation measures have been identified by the Red List. Our joint vision to forge a conservation tool that connects donors directly with actors on the conservation frontline is also a legacy well worth celebrating on this anniversary.

Looking ahead, major threats to the global commons that GEF is ideally placed to tackle include the illegal trade of wild species, the proliferation of invasive species, the emergence of new animal and plant diseases, and the ongoing devastation of natural habitats. Remedial measures must respect traditional culture and local knowledge about the sustainable use of biodiversity.

Given the triple challenge of population increase, food security and climate change, GEF and partners will need to promote new forms of sustainable agriculture, especially small-scale agriculture that is supported by an incredible variety of ecosystems and a wealth of local knowledge. 

Our vision for the Global Environment Facility gives the utmost importance to the conservation and restoration of ecosystems – our forests, river basins, drylands and coasts, as well as the oceans, which have no single jurisdiction. Quite simply, a healthy biosphere is critical to the continued existence of life on Earth.

Statement by Inger Andersen, IUCN Director General

This statement first appeared on the GEF website

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