Summary report, 24–26 June 2018

54th GEF Council Meeting and 6th GEF Assembly

The 54th Meeting of the Global Environment Facility (GEF) Council took place from 24-26 June 2018, immediately prior to the 6th GEF Assembly. The Council meets twice annually, while the GEF Assembly meets every four years, and on this occasion from 27-28 June 2018. A Civil Society Organization (CSO) Forum was held on 26 June.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO) is an implementing agency of the GEF, which acts as the international co-financing mechanism that provides grants to countries to invest in global environmental projects addressing the critical nexus between agriculture and the environment. This includes climate change, biodiversity, land degradation, international waters and chemicals. The FAO’s GEF Coordination Unit, which manages the FAO-GEF portfolio, is housed at the FAO Investment Centre. The Centre has helped with the design and implementation of over 2,000 investment operations across 170 countries, valued at more than US$116 billion.

During the 54th GEF Council meeting, FAO hosted and co-hosted several side events, sharing with meeting participants experiences from some of these initiatives. On Sunday 24 June, FAO hosted a side event on Sustainable Development Goal 15 (Life on Land), looking at monitoring and maximizing global environmental benefits of drylands. On Monday 25 June, FAO hosted a side event on biodiversity mainstreaming and ecosystem services across agricultural sectors. Side events hosted by FAO on Tuesday 26 June included: the Blue Economy and how to add value and scale up GEF-7 impacts; achievements and looking ahead in the Common Oceans or Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction Program; focusing on smallholders and value chains to transform food systems and land use; and reconfirming the commitment to collaborate for sustainable management in the Bay of Bengal Large Marine Ecosystem.

Selected Side Events

Sustainable Development Goal 15 (Life on Land): Maximizing Global Environmental Benefits of Drylands

This side event took place on 24 June. The event showcased successful sustainable examples of how spatial data assessments can help drive management and restoration of degraded lands and support country ownership, while ensuring socio-economic and environmental benefits for vulnerable dryland communities. Panelists were invited to: share experiences and lessons learned on land degradation and restoration assessment, and monitoring at the global, national, and local level; highlight experiences and successes on sustainable land management and restoration for scaling up under GEF-7; and demonstrate land degradation neutrality (LDN) target setting and implementation at country level.

Moderator Juan Carlos Mendoza, UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) Global Mechanism, presenting the panelists, reported that every three seconds a hectare of land is lost due to land degradation. He warned that 1.5 billion people are trapped on degraded agricultural land, and these comprise some of the world’s most impoverished countries.

Providing opening remarks, Ulrich Apel, Land Degradation Focal Area Coordinator, GEF Secretariat, welcomed the LDN concept, saying it has been recognized as an “integrator” of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). He described the GEF’s role in helping 60 countries to set their voluntary targets and approving US$80 million to advance a further 20 projects. On the GEF-7 replenishment cycle, he said donors have agreed to increase the LDN focal area by 10% despite the overall decrease of the GEF funding. He underscored the need to: improving enabling frameworks; appropriate policy regulations and monitoring; capacity building; and to partner with the GEF’s Scientific and Technical Advisory Panel (STAP) to develop policy guidance that will assist projects on the ground.

In a keynote presentation, Carlos Manuel Rodriguez, Minister of Environment and Energy, Costa Rica, emphasized the need to move away from perverse incentives and frameworks that were developed during the previous century and caused massive land degradation in many forested countries. He described his country’s change of strategy to double forest cover, which led to “tripling” economic growth despite the country doubling its population. He reported on the land use capacity map that was used as a tool to identify soil types and indicate relevant crops, and designing the correct institutional framework to reverse land degradation.

Nosipho Ngcaba, Director-General, Department of Environmental Affairs, South Africa, shared the South African experience, reminding that all ecosystems are under pressure with the planetary boundaries at their limits. Lamenting that investments in sustainable land management are not always well-informed, she described the “work-for” suite of environmental approaches in her country to provide work opportunities to the unemployed, while eradicating invasive plant species, fighting forest fires and restoring wetlands.

During the ensuing panel discussion on restoring and monitoring drylands through technical tools, Annette Cowie, Adviser on Land Degradation, STAP, explained the term LDN provides a mechanism for achieving no net loss compared to the base line. Cowie highlighted that prevention or avoiding land degradation remains the preferred course of action, and stressed the need for planning, as done through the LDN Logic Model. She further explained the use of resilience assessment, land-use scenarios and integrated land use planning, saying counterbalancing future land degradation has been adopted as a new approach.

Melchiade Bukuru, Chief, UNCCD’s New York Office, citing the SDG motto to “leave no one behind,” warned that those being left behind are the inhabitants of the drylands. He suggested the drylands as the most appropriate places to start interventions and make investments, and emphasized that identifying these degraded “hot spots” is crucial to accelerate the SDG achievements.

Thomas Hammond, FAO, presented the Collect Earth tool, describing it as the “local knowledge meets cloud” computing for land monitoring, which, he said, will support land monitoring efforts, and provide accurate assessment at national, local and global level. Using the example of Cape Verde, he explained the use of the tool to identify: the increase of 16% forest cover on the island; changes in land use; and an increase of 47.9 square kilometers degraded land, with 138 square kilometers of land restored, resulting in a net gain in land productivity.

Alex Zvoleff, Senior Director of Resilience Science, Conservation International, presented the Trends.Earth tool, highlighting as the main challenge finding ways to assess and track land degradation and guide efforts to achieve LDN. On the indicators, he noted that the tool: can set baselines and track progress towards achieving LDN; leverages cloud computing technology and allows the use of the best available data; and enables identification of lands that are either degrading or improving through using standardized data.

Biodiversity Mainstreaming Across Agricultural Sectors

This side event took place on 25 June. The event aimed to raise awareness about: the recently launched Biodiversity Mainstreaming Platform which aims to build bridges between sectors, identify synergies, align goals and develop integrated cross-sectoral approaches in the agriculture, forestry and fisheries sectors; and the forthcoming publication of The State of the World’s Biodiversity for Food and Agriculture.

Thomas Hammond, FAO, moderated the session, introducing the topic by noting FAO would continue to aim to bridge the gap between the natural resources and agriculture sectors, having launched the Biodiversity Mainstreaming Platform.

In a keynote speech, Cristiana Pașca Palmer Executive Secretary, Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) stressed that strengthened agricultural production and protecting biodiversity are key “intertwined challenges” at the heart of the 2030 Agenda. Noting that while agriculture remains the major driver of ongoing biodiversity loss, she expressed optimism about positive information sharing outcomes at the Multi-stakeholder Dialogue on Biodiversity Mainstreaming across Agricultural Sectors held in Rome 29-31 May 2018, the first major activity of the FAO’s Biodiversity Mainstreaming Platform.

In a second keynote presentation, Carlos Manuel Rodriguez Minister of Environment and Energy, Costa Rica, described the challenges at governmental level between the different ministries of environment and agriculture, who often see each other as adversaries instead of as colleagues. He noted the importance of planning together and defining the investments jointly. Palmer agreed with him about sharing the same experiences at national level and called for a paradigm shift away from the concept that “conservation takes away natural resources from the agricultural sector.”

Mark Zimsky, Biodiversity Focal Area Coordinator, the GEF, presented on lessons learned from previous CBD projects, highlighting that there aren’t yet many completed projects to draw conclusions from. He indicated that mainstreamed programs work best where there are: democratic transparent and stable governance systems; strong institutional capacity; availability and use of science-based biophysical and socio-economic spatial information systems; and phased in over an extended period. He closed by noting that these features are therefore reflected, where possible, in GEF-7 CBD projects.

Carlos Manuel Jimenez, Deputy Director-General of Environmental Financial Schemes, Ministry of Environment, Mexico, reflected on the impact of the CBD’s 13th Conference of the Parties, held in Cancun in 2017, outlining: the four natural resource sectors of fisheries, forestry, agriculture and biodiversity signed an agreement to integrate strategies; and the creation of the world’s first Mainstreaming Biodiversity Center. As integrated results, he highlighted: fulfilled the natural protected areas objective of 10 to 20% national territory under protection; Mexico’s Biodiversity Finance Initiative, analysis of public and institutional policies on biodiversity in the country; analysis of federal public spending for biodiversity; and costing of the National Biodiversity Strategy of Mexico.

Kim Thuy Ngoc, Institute of Strategy on Natural Resources and Environment, Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, Viet Nam, outlined her country’s efforts to address biodiversity loss, including through declaration of protected areas and a series of national conservation plans. She expressed appreciation for FAO’s recent Multistakeholder Dialogue in Rome, noting that it will be increasingly important to demonstrate the ‘economic value’ of biodiversity for it to be taken seriously by mainstream ministries.

Chris Brown, Vice President, Corporate Social Responsibility, Olam International, highlighted the potential for millions of farmers to drive enhanced biodiverse outcomes if appropriate incentives enable them to see benefits in sustainable farming practices. He also outlined actions which Olam International is undertaking to value its biodiverse resources, including: participating in Gabon’s dialogue on forests, bringing in all relevant stakeholders to assess operational best practice for production in an area that is biodiversity-rich.

In response to questions from participants at the close of the event, speakers agreed that the business case for improving biodiversity outcomes needed to be better articulated, including reflecting the impact of externalities which are currently socialized across the community or passed on to the next generation. Minister Rodriguez concluded discussion by hypothesizing that in future, once full costs and benefits have been appropriately assessed, then there will not be a need for separate food and agriculture and environment ministers as there will be greater recognition that the two are inextricably linked.

Blue Economy: Adding Value and Scaling Up GEF-7 Impacts

This side event was held on 26 June, and showcased stories from FAO’s Blue Growth projects and activities, an FAO investment that represents a version of the Blue Economy focused on leveraging FAO’s wide-ranging expertise in fisheries and aquaculture. Panelists exchanged experience, knowledge, tools and understanding of the Blue Economy, and looked at opportunities to scale up actions through innovative financing mechanisms and including the private sector. Jacqueline Alder, Fishcode Manager, FAO, moderated the session.

In her opening statement, Karin Kemper, Senior Director, World Bank, shared that the Bank’s Blue Economy portfolio is approximately US$2.6 billion, and highlighted that client country requests for support on instituting Blue Economy policies have increased.

Árni Mathiesen, Assistant Director-General, Fisheries and Aquaculture Department, FAO, described the link between environmental and humanitarian challenges, noting, for instance that 90% of those affected by the problems associated with overfishing and related biodiversity loss are in developing countries.

In his address, Kristian Teleki, Director, Sustainable Ocean Initiative, World Resources Institute, described the Blue Economy, underlining that the ocean’s contribution of US$2.5 trillion a year to the world economy, bolsters economic growth and food security. He said that the Blue Economy is not replacing the Green Economy, and does not justify overexploitation of ocean resources. He outlined that a new ocean economy contributes to sustainable livelihoods and food security, drawing attention to the negative consequences to the biodiversity and livelihoods of a business-as-usual approach.

Damian Hine, Capturing Coral Reef and Related Ecosystem Services (CCRES) project, spoke about the CCRES project supported by the GEF, outlining a range of both practical and analytical tools to build an evidence base that will inform policies and improve coastal ecosystems. He highlighted tools related to: system simulation of the future; business development tools to utilize plastics for enterprising purposes; developing effective governance processes; and promoting behavior change.

Kim Thi Thuy Ngoc, Institute of Strategy and Policy on Natural Resources and Environment, Viet Nam, presented on the role of natural capital accounting in Viet Nam’s Blue Economy Strategy, outlining that Viet Nam has a good policy framework to promote the blue economy. She highlighted that to promote the blue economy, it is important to: integrate the intangible values of marine resources into all aspects of economic activities; define a pathway to support the growth of a country’s blue economy; and identify sustainable development options.

Rudolf Hermes, FAO consultant, outlined the Action Platform for ‘Source-to-Sea’ Management (S2S Platform), a new approach to the Blue Economy, highlighting that this multisectoral approach is aligned with GEF-7 programming. He stressed that good governance is still a key prerequisite to sustain economic growth, noting that the governance for a ‘Source to Sea’ approach is currently fragmented, involving large-marine ecosystem approaches, regional-seas programs and international efforts under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. Speaking on FAO’s ‘Source to Sea’ approach in the Asia Pacific, he noted that it uses water as an entry point for tracing ecosystem flows and developing multidisciplinary investments that cover multiple sustainable development goals.

Vinh Van Tran, Vice-Director, Fisheries Department, Binh Dinh Province, Viet Nam, highlighted fisheries co-management and marine spatial planning in his presentation on the Viet Nam Coastal Resources Project. He shared successes and lessons learnt in co-management of the Binh Dinh fisheries, discussing the risks faced by the sector including pollution and overfishing. He highlighted that the GEF-funded project involved the preparation of an action framework, and resulted in building management capacity for local communities, as well as the development of legal frameworks for fisheries co-management.

In the ensuing discussion, participants considered, inter alia: how the different tools and projects presented relate to the grey economy; how to conduct blue-economy projects within the International Waters focal area; and definitions of the blue economy.

Common Oceans or Marine Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction (ABNJ) Program: Achievements So Far and Looking Ahead

This side event took place on 26 June, and aimed to: inform GEF participants about the progress towards expected outcomes of the program; share lessons learned; and propose some ideas regarding opportunities for future investments under GEF-7 to consolidate and further progress towards a long-lasting impact.

Leah Karrer, Senior Environmental Specialist, GEF, introduced the session, noting that despite the enormous economic significance of the high seas, the ABNJ program was the first major international program in this area. She pointed to the four Common Oceans projects’ success in leveraging US$275 million in co-financing.

Rosina Bierbaum, GEF STAP Chair, reminded participants of the significance of work under the ABNJ Program, in building capacity throughout regions to support international cooperation on the common oceans and in supporting work also being done to introduce an international agreement on marine biological diversity beyond areas of national jurisdiction.

Jacqueline Alder Fishcode Manager, FAO, gave a presentation on the lessons learned since the Common Oceans Program commenced in 2014-15. She highlighted that the projects under the program were coming towards their conclusion in 2019 and FAO would look to carry these lessons learned into better design of GEF-7 programs, including in relation to: where the program’s eight regional fisheries management organizations (RFMOs) would benefit from further capacity building; strengthening RFMO engagement on marine spatial planning: updating 2008 guidelines on deep sea management drawing on current scientific findings; encouraging greater political commitment on tuna by RFMOs; the market for sustainable fishing has developed rapidly since the program commenced; governance of ABNJ programs may need to be reviewed; and appropriately managing the high seas’ fisheries operations is of critical importance to small island developing States. She also pointed to the yellow/red card system for management of illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing as an incentive to countries to improve their performance in this area.

Árni Mathiesen, Assistant Director-General, Fisheries and Aquaculture Department, FAO, commented that the four projects had worked remarkably well, particularly in forging connections whereby FAO now work closely with diverse stakeholders ranging from the World Bank to World Wide Fund For Nature (WWF) and other CSOs. He highlighted that bureaucracy required large time investment, with several years of preparatory work required in the case of tuna and deep-sea fishing activities, but the end result had been worth it.

Valerie Hickey, Biodiversity Specialist, World Bank, praised FAO’s leadership, particularly as large-scale fishing in the high seas is a private sector operation which public bodies are not very expert in. She pointed to four areas where the private sector was looking for public sector input: regulatory framework; investment credibility; infrastructure; and access to finance. She noted that the inability to price risk in the fisheries sector, in relation to harvest sizes, had led to over-investment in fleet sizes.

Lauren Spurrier, Managing Director, Oceans, WWF, complimented FAO’s strong project management and noted the importance of designing interventions that demonstrate early impacts, as the project on tuna has done. She also noted the need to be flexible in project delivery in the face of unexpected obstacles.

Steve Fletcher, Chief Strategy Officer, Marine Programme, UN Environment’s World Conservation Monitoring Center, highlighted the challenges of: regional sea bodies that struggle to focus on management beyond their territories; compiling a data compendium accessible to everyone, specifically regarding ABNJ characteristics; and lack of communication between the different regional bodies.

In conclusion, panelists were invited to express their wishes for the ABNJ program, with Fletcher noting the need to convince regional sea organizations of their dependence on the waters beyond their boundaries. Hickey emphasized the importance of face-to-face interaction between the stakeholders, which act as places to share ideas, almost like “therapy groups.” Spurrier stressed the need to pre-identify locations where knowledge sharing will occur.

Transformational Change in Food Systems and Land Use: a Focus on Smallholders and Value Chains

This side event, held on 26 June, explored transformational change in the context of the new GEF-7 Food Systems, Land use and Restoration Impact Programme by looking at smallholders and value chains.

Opening the session, Maria Helena Semedo, Deputy Director-General Climate and Natural Resources, FAO, underscored that food and agriculture systems are no longer sustainable and require transformational change to feed a population that is set to rise to 9 billion by 2050. She underlined the need for a multi-stakeholder partnership for a sustainable solution to feed and protect the planet, and noted that farmers are key to finding an innovative solution towards a world without hunger.

Vincent Martin, FAO Representative in China, moderated the panel discussion, noting that although we produce enough food to feed the planet, 800 million people suffer from hunger, while there is a growing number of obese people. He said that the effort it takes to produce food is no longer valued, and noted that food waste is an illustration of this.

In a keynote presentation, Annette Cowie, GEF STAP, spoke on pathways to sustainable land-use and food systems. She described the “Take-Make-Waste” system in the current food and agriculture production patterns, explaining how this system contributes to greenhouse gas emissions both at the farm level and at the consumer level. She called for a circular economy food system, governed by sustainable agricultural principles such as sustainable land management.

Alexander Teabo, Minister of Environment, Lands and Agricultural Development, Kiribati, supported a multi-stakeholder approach to transformational change in food systems and land use, noting that as a small island developing State, Kiribati has limited lands and transformational change capability to improve food security. He emphasized the important role of traditional knowledge in farming and fishing, saying it has been the bedrock of the country’s food security, but lamented that there is a growing dependence on food imports that is threatening this. He also pointed to the role of climate change and sea-level rise on the productivity of the land, which he noted delays or eliminates access to locally-sourced foods.

Nikunja Kishore Sundaray, GEF-Operational Focal Point, Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, India, noted that India has 2% of the world’s arable land but produces food for 18% of the global population, highlighting that with climate change affecting rain-fed agriculture, the country is relying more heavily on irrigation. He highlighted a GEF-6 project on green value chains, which also includes a school-feeding program. He also spoke on the importance of recovery of degraded lands in India, and noted the importance of family farms to food security.

Vu Le Y Voan, Advisor to the Viet Nam Farmers’ Union, highlighted that farmers have been trained in applying good agricultural practices. Noting that this is an example of behavior change, she said good agricultural practices introduced by the government have translated into better local-level organization and land management. She also underscored the need to include the consumer, the private sector, local government and scientists to ensure a sustainable value change.

Liza Leclerc, Lead Technical Specialist, International Fund for Agricultural Development, spoke on innovative financing in the context of transformative change in the food value chain. She noted that extreme poverty has been slowly decreasing, but food poverty has been increasing due to environmental degradation and climate change. She lamented that smallholder farmers have the greatest challenge in accessing finance. Noting that remittances are a significant portion of investment finance, she said that there is a need for partnerships to promote remittance flows towards smallholder farmers. On domestic public financing, she stressed the importance of enabling environments for private sector engagement.

Sanjay Sethi, Director of Sustainability, Phoenix Group, shared that on a panel of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, he heard that businesses should be profitable but also make an impact. He noted that the world’s food system is broken with smallholders under threat, imports on the rise, and deforestation increasing, and said that when it comes to actually solving global environmental problems, the private sector is always the last to speak even though they may be the best-placed to advise governments on the way forward. Stressing that business people are in the business of food security from the perspective of profit, he underlined that agricultural public planning processes could benefit from business thinking.

In the ensuing discussion, participants considered the role of the GEF in transforming food systems; and how to incentivize the private sector to engage in the transformation of food systems.

The Bay of Bengal Large Marine Ecosystem: Reconfirming the Commitment to Collaborate for Sustainable Management

This side event took place on Tuesday evening, and provided an opportunity for participating countries of the Bay of Bengal Large Marine Ecosystem (BOBLME) Strategic Action Programme (SAP) to re-affirm their commitment to the programme in its next phase, including by: presenting key outcomes from the SAP Phase 1; sharing key features of the programme framework for Phase 2; and providing guidance for Phase 2 implementation.

In opening remarks, Rudolf Hermes, FAO consultant, explained that the objective of the event was to expand the programme partnership and solicit inputs from participants for developing the second phase of the SAP. He noted that the GEF Council has approved funding for SAP at its 54th meeting and adopted the large marine ecosystem approach in its portfolio on international waters.

Keynote speaker Sevvandi Jayakody, Wayamba University, Sri Lanka, shared achievements of the first phase of the project, including: increased knowledge for evidence-based decision making on ecosystem management; enhanced local and sub-regional capacity on science communication and ecosystem management planning; strengthened cooperation and coordination across countries and institutions that led to good governance, including improvement on legislation; and conflict intervention through transboundary stock management. She also indicated opportunities for an expanded partnership in the new phase of the SAP to build resilience and thus ensure ecological and human wellbeing.

Partner organizations and participating countries delivered messages.

Leah Bunce Karrer, Senior Environmental Specialist, International Waters, GEF Secretariat, identified aspects she said make the BOBLME “monumental”: the ecosystem’s ecological and socioeconomic importance, including through provision of livelihoods to 3.7 million people and food for 400 million; the program’s success in transboundary multinational cooperation; and the program’s emphasis on knowledge management and capacity building.

Daniele Ponzi, Chief of Environment Thematic Group, Sustainable Development and Climate Change Department, Asian Development Bank (ADB), indicated that the ADB expects to partner with BOBLME through its waste management projects in the city of Mandalay in Myanmar, and hopes to support knowledge sharing, replication and upscaling of these investments in other cities and beyond.

Highlighting that half of India’s 7,500 km coastline are on the Bay of Bengal, Nikunja Kishore Sundaray, Joint Secretary of the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Chang, India, expressed his country’s commitment to be an active participant in the BOBLME. He drew parallels between the BOBLME and the World Bank-supported Integrated Coastal Zone Management, noting that both have in place strong implementation mechanisms.

Bunce Karrer noted that GEF-7 places more importance on plastic than during previous replenishment periods. Hermes added that the FAO will continue a dialogue with the GEF Secretariat to explore the possibility of including projects on marine plastic waste under the BOBLME. On a BOBLME coordination mechanism, Hermes said that while countries had not been ready to commit to an institution at the end of the first phase, the second phase includes plans to establish a consortium.

Hermes closed the event, noting that enthusiasm in committing to the second phase of BOBLME was noticeable in the meeting and came across in all messages.

Further information


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