Credit: Fabricio Vanden Broeck
The Environmental Benefactor
By Monique Barbut
The Global Environment Facility has provided grants totaling more than six billion dollars since its creation 15 years ago. The third GEF assembly takes place in South Africa at the end of August.
WASHINGTON, (Tierramérica).- In "Great Expectations" (1861) by British novelist from the Victorian era, Charles Dickens, the hero, Pip, has as his anonymous patroness the very colorful Miss Havisham.
In the environmental arena, the usual and unrecognized benefactor behind the scenes is not a person, but rather the Global Environment Facility (GEF), based in Washington DC.
In the past 15 years, the GEF has issued more than six billion dollars in environmental grants in the developing world, from Quito to Kuala Lumpur, with more than 1,800 projects in 140 countries
There is practically no crucial area in which the GEF hand is not present. Consider wind energy and India, one of the world's fastest growing countries and with acute and expanding need for energy in order to help millions of people escape poverty.
The projects and partners of the GEF have helped to bring about dramatic growth in the deployment of wind turbines and have cooperated to initiate a domestic manufacturing market.
In 2005, India displaced Denmark as the fourth leading nation in wind energy production, with an installed capacity of 4,253 megawatts.
In the African Great Rift Valley, where humanity made its first hesitant steps, the heated rock promotes a new and abundant source of energy. A GEF project has the goal of avoiding the risks of perforation, instead taking advantage of the steam produced.
The fault, which extends from Mozambique to the Red Sea, could, in theory, provide enough electricity to meet all of the region's development needs, reducing dependence on fossil fuels and contributing to energy security.
In the developing world, the vertiginous urbanization of the cities is multiplying health risks, air pollution, and noisy streets jammed with traffic.
The GEF, through the United Nations Development Program, the United Nations Environment Program and the World Bank, is directing the bus rapid transit initiatives and other types of clean transportation in urbs like Dar es Salaam, Guatemala City, Panama City and Santiago.
The 20th century was the industrial era. The 21st will increasingly become the biological era.
The GEF supports the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor, which connects protected areas and biological corridors in development from Mexico to Panama. Its aim is to help conserve the region that sustains seven percent of the Earth's plant biodiversity, along with exotic endangered animals like the jaguar.
The Facility is also helping developing countries to be pioneers in innovative trade mechanisms so that the products and services provided by the environment are better appreciated and its guardians better compensated.
In Costa Rica, the GEF is accelerating payments to ranchers and farmers. The project has helped with reforestation, which in exchange will reinforce nature's ability to provide renewable sources of freshwater and will help capture climate-changing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.
Environment ministers and officials from more than 150 countries will gather in Cape Town, South Africa, Aug. 29-30, for the third assembly of the GEF, the first to take place in Africa.
The meeting gives us a good opportunity to remember and renovate the vision -- and the determination and optimism -- that gave birth to the Facility 15 years ago.
Times were different when the GEF was established. The end of a bipolar world and the peace dividend seemed to offer a new opportunity for resolving many of the problems and challenges faced by the planet and its people.
Those hopes have not yet become reality, in spite of several obvious victories and many success stories. Environmental degradation continues its destructive and unsustainable course.
A strong, creative, vibrant, visible and well supported Global Environment Facility is important -- in fact, more important today than ever.
* Monique Barbut is the GEF's Chief Executive Officer.