The Global Environmental Facility - August 23, 2002

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Villagers had already noticed a decline in the agricultural productivity of their land. Although no scientific studies were carried out, the World Bank-financed Kiambere and other up-stream dams are likely responsible for reduced flooding of the river plains. “We will be reduced to beggars if they interfere with our farming,” says a village elder. “We Pokomo have never killed wildlife, but if you beat me because of wildlife, then I will kill the wildlife because it has become my problem.”[57]
The project’s lack of attention to local knowledge and concerns created an environment of misunderstanding and mistrust. This led to forest destruction and a loss of habitat for the primates. Promises of crop compensation, new homes, schools and roads led 200 families to volunteer for resettlement, but these promises were never fulfilled. The underlying issue of the downstream impact of dams on subsistence farmers and the role of the World Bank in threatening livelihoods was never addressed by the Bank.
In the end, after having spent about US$ 500 million in project preparation costs, the GEF removed its funding for the project, because it does not fund resettlement. This decision was made long after resettlement had become a central issue of the project. Although the project was eventually cancelled, local researchers conclude that the dynamics created as result of the project have placed the forests and primates it was supposed to protect in serious jeopardy. There is no documentation to indicate that the GEF has learned from this costly mistake.
c. India: Ecodevelopment at Nagarhole
Beginning in 1998, GEF contributed US $20 million of the World Bank’s US $68 million ‘India Ecodevelopment’ project, intended to protect biodiversity through participatory conservation programmes in seven Indian national parks. At sites like Nagarhole, however, local people condemned the project fencing off the park from locals, bringing corrupt interests to a fragile and remote area and resettling indigenous people (adivasi) in areas where they cannot make a living - all without securing effective conservation. Additionally, the project did not tackle encroachment into the park by cash-crop plantations, and the roads it resurfaced only enabled smugglers trucks to escape forest guards more quickly.
Nagarhole’s 643 sq. km is under intense pressure from agricultural encroachment to produce cash crops including tobacco and coffee, coupled with the pressures of organised smuggling, the food and fuel needs of local people and wildlife populations displaced by a nearby World Bank-assisted dam. The project funded trenches and fencing to keep animals in and people out. It provided forest officials with new equipment to monitor poachers and fires. A visitors’ centre was build as well as an expanded guesthouse. Also funded were impact monitoring and research systems.
The participatory component of the project involved creating village level committees around the park to allocate 60 per cent of project funds to local people in return for promises to stay out of the park. These committees were often dominated by richer villagers and officials reportedly abandoned project activities altogether in villages where committees showed too much independence. Six thousand adivasi living inside the park were not consulted about the project at all.
Many people were resettled in thousands of airless concrete houses built for them outside the park. Lacking farming tools and skills for life outside the forest, most ‘oustees’ soon returned to the forest and/or local plantations. Forest guards then waste time trying to make an unpopular resettlement programme work and harassing adivasi in the forest - instead of using their skills in understanding and protecting wildlife.
Neither the Bank nor the local forest department has recognised the proposed local ‘Peoples’ Plan’ for ecological development, which includes the removal of roads and concrete buildings from the park and the provision of basic healthcare and education within pre-existing budgets. Instead, a construction continued on a $200 a night eco-tourist resort inside the park. After much local resistance, the resort was stopped in the courts in 2000 – leaving the project at Nagarhole Park with no obvious constituency other than the forest officials enjoying improved equipment and facilities.
Asserting that the forest is not for sale, locals have demanded that the World Bank stop the project which they believe only supports those that harass them. The Indian government, however, did not want the project stopped, and from the World Bank’s perspective, Ecodevelopment remained their ‘most progressive effort’ under the GEF.
The GEF has no complaints procedure for project-affected communities; complaints must be made to the implementing agencies. Invited to Nagarhole in 1999, the World Bank’s Independent Inspection Panel ‘found merit’ in adivasi complaints: GEF and World Bank guidelines on indigenous peoples and resettlement had been broken. The Bank’s governing Board did not approve a full inspection, however, and a second Panel complaint in 2000 has not gone forward.
Activists for adivasi rights continue to be beaten and jailed around Nagarhole; resulting protests have stretched to hunger-strikes. Official hopes may remain for a second phase of project funding to extend Ecodevelopment to more national parks but reports from Delhi suggest that in reality, the national Ecodevelopment initiative is ‘dead in the water’.
6. The GEF-Small Grants Programme – A way forward?
One notable programmatic success at the GEF has been the Small Grants Programme, a small fund run by UNDP in response to the demands of environmental groups for grassroots conservation. GEF launched the Small Grants Programme (SGP) in 1992, in thirty-three pilot countries. The goal was ‘to provide a supplementary opportunity for NGO involvement in the GEF… to test and demonstrate small-scale projects, strategies and processes’. As early as the Independent Evaluation of 1994, the programme was “well received by developing countries.”[58]
As the UNDP’s 1998 SGP evaluation put it: ‘Considering the modest level of grant funds available for disbursement in each country and the small operating budgets, it is remarkable what has been achieved.’ Valuable lessons from the SGP include the importance of:

  • Bringing decision-making closer to local and national technical expertise instead of having external consultants impose external agendas;
  • using participatory approaches to engage communities affected by projects throughout the process in order to build ownership of projects and outcomes;
  • scaling projects appropriately to meet local conditions;
  • the need for flexibility – the incremental cost concept not being used to determine whose benefits are fundable;
  • transcending some of GEF’s opaque restrictions and language;
  • engaging a diverse range of constituencies;
  • clearly being country-driven and using local goods and services.

Allocated US $19.5 million for its pilot phase of 1992-5, the SGP was replenished in July 1996 with US $24 million for two years. Since 1998, SGP has been financed on a rolling basis at over US $20 million per annum – a tiny proportion of GEF’s overall portfolio. As of May 2002, a total of 3,126 grants had been given since the programme’s inception; approximately half have been completed. The number of countries participating also expanded rapidly to sixty three by 2002 - but insufficiently to meet demand.
Grants to NGOs and ‘community-based organisations’ (CBOs) range up to US $50,000, but average around US $20,000. SGP offers grantees training, experiences-sharing and workshops have focused on participatory ecological assessments, ecotourism, community organization and advocacy, NGO institutional strengthening, financial management and reporting. Over two thirds of grants fall in the biodiversity focal area, mostly for capacity building. The programme has proven more popular than many other GEF investments – essentially because it goes to support people at the grassroots, where environmental impacts are more immediate – and obvious.
Decisions on small grant distribution are made at the national level by selection committees – without the involvement of international consultants and organised by a national co-ordinator. Members serve on a voluntary basis and typically represent government (which has to endorse the programme); CBOs and NGOs; national academic, scientific, and technical institutions; and the local UNDP country office. This arrangement seems to reinforce country ownership in a way that traditional project implementation arrangements do not, though it means that ‘the portfolio …includes many projects with only indirect or tenuous links to the GEF focal areas’. The 1998 report concluded however that ‘winning the confidence of communities and helping them organize takes time, involves much uncertainty and is unlikely to be successful if it begins with an explicit emphasis on GEF focal areas’.[59]
To receive a small grant, a group has to address the GEF’s global interests through participatory actions at a local level. The incremental costs criterion does not have to be applied to each SGP grant - because the overall programme contributes to GEF goals. The SGP has attracted substantial co-financing, successful projects have been scaled up and replicated, and the programme has generated a lot of goodwill towards GEF.
“The Small Grants Programme develops local capacity,
laying the necessary foundation for larger projects and building up NGO communities. It may not have a lot of immediate global impact, but has a catalytic effect
 - like rings in water”. [60]
At the international level, the lack of full GEF Secretariat support has prevented SGP from fulfilling what many see as its full catalytic potential. Despite the programme’s value as a ‘showcase’ of GEF’s assistance to grassroots conservation, and its capacity to ‘do more for outreach than the rest of the GEF put together’,[61] the Secretariat seems - like the rest of the World Bank – not particularly interested in initiatives involving so little capital investment.
The programme has also suffered from some of the problems of full-scale GEF projects - a lack of appropriate capacity at the grassroots, problems with the long-term sustainability of initiatives, lack of resources for recurrent costs and limited lessons generated (See Section 4). There is also the risk that an influx of even SGP’s level of grant finance can damage relationships in and between small community-based groups. Some critics of the GEF are also wary that the SGP may be used to “soften up” civil society for larger grants and loans from the institutions involved.[62]
In spite of these concerns, the 1998 SGP evaluation described the programme as “unmatched by other environmental programmes in terms of its innovation, flexibility, and responsiveness” and found “no comparable mechanism for raising environmental awareness and building capacity across such a broad spectrum of constituencies within the respective countries.” It further noted, that ‘most countries can show convincing examples of projects which have been scaled up or replicated elsewhere’[63], and as one national SGP coordinator put it, ‘I had been trained as a professional to think big. SGP's most daunting challenge to me was learning to think small. Without learning to think small, programmes don't realize the potential for having big impact’.[64]

7. Conclusion
In spite of the ongoing efforts of committed individuals within it, the GEF remains a flawed mechanism for transferring resources North to South to protect the global environment.
Problems including: competition between the implementing agencies, the failure to mainstream environmental sustainability throughout the implementing agencies, the weakness of the Secretariat, lack of comprehensive public participation and project ownership, a weak monitoring and evaluation unit, flawed cost concepts, and failure to learn lessons continue to undermine the effective functioning of the mechanism.
 By compartmentalizing environmental protection into an ever-shrinking fund with an ever- increasing remit without addressing cross-cutting macroeconomic issues including poverty, trade, and global finance, the amount of GEF resources will always be inadequate in real terms and ultimately ineffectual.
Closing the doors of the GEF because it is not working, however, is no solution. Global and local environmental destruction continues apace and the political willingness to work towards effective multilateral solutions to global environmental problems is at risk. Given the reluctance of the US administration, with the tacit compliance of some of its Northern government partners, to support recent multilateral environmental initiatives, the necessary political will for substantial environmental action may not be forthcoming ‘from above’ in the near future.
The lessons of the GEF’s first ten years, therefore, must lead to a fundamental reform of the attitudes, approaches and culture that have fostered and compounded the difficulties faced by the GEF. The mega-project approach to development resource transfers supported by donors, implementing agencies and external consultants must be abandoned. Short-term mitigative action through technology and resource transfer will only postpone environmental degradation unless its underlying causes are addressed. A global economic model that fails to recognize the limits to both economic growth and ecosystem absorptive capacity cannot be sustained.
Successes such as the Small Grants Programme must be replicated, expanded and integrated throughout GEF operations and agencies. Given real commitment to reform, the GEF could contribute to a new model of multilateral green aid. It could :

  • start from local conservation needs and initiatives, providing money, international experts and managers to assist locals on request from 'below'; 
  • help local and national democratic bodies to develop and enforce fair, effective environmental regulation; 
  • establish a project preparation facility to reshape and ecologically certify development investments; 
  • redirect global resources and expertise from isolated projects into greening the rules of international trade and investment.

With the North resistant to any further or meaningful aid commitments and GEF resources being forced to do more with less, new and additional resources must be found to finance global environmental protection. While no one knows the costs of meeting conventions goals, the current resource base is clearly insufficient. Investigating options including currency transactions taxes, the elimination of tax havens and tax loopholes as well as tax competition must be an urgent multilateral priority.
The GEF must recognize its limitations, build on its successes, learn from its failures and through its member governments, work to address the macroeconomic structural reform that will forever undermine its performance.

8. Recommendations
The protection of the life-sustaining atmosphere, biodiversity and water of our planet ultimately requires fundamental reforms in the world economy. Excessive consumption of environmental resources, on the one hand, and pervasive poverty, on the other, must end. Without fair trade, comprehensive debt relief, democratic control of the global financial system, and respect for local communities, we, and the environment will continue to suffer.
At the domestic level, the major polluters must reduce their emissions of greenhouse, toxic and ozone-destructive substances, while all countries must pursue land reform, green tax incentives, community development and the strengthening of democratic rights. A deepening of democracy in all countries is quintessential to bring principles of participation and accountability to our approach to the environment.
In this broader picture, the GEF plays a minor but potentially significant role. Several of the recommendations presented here were already made by successive GEF evaluation reports but have not been implemented. Other recommendations related to generating green resources and finding new ways to cooperate on positive policy development will require vision and bold action on the part of GEF governing bodies.

  • The GEF Secretariat must be made fully independent of the World Bank and given a clear mandate to oversee the GEF-related activities of the Implementing Agencies (the GEF must be given a separate legal status as recommended by the 2002 Evaluation Report);
  • Mandatory performance requirements must be established to ensure that the Implementing Agencies mainstream global environmental goals in their regular activities. There must be monetary sanctions for non-compliance;
  • The GEF Secretariat’s Monitoring & Evaluation unit must be given additional resources and authority and develop new strategies to ensure project lessons are effectively evaluated, learned and shared;
  • An effective system to ensure stakeholder participation in decision-making, including the involvement of indigenous communities, for all GEF projects must be established;
  • Increased resources should be allocated to programmes which have proven to work most effectively, such as the Small Grants Programme;
  • The incremental cost policy and practice must be the subject of a comprehensive evaluation leading to its fundamental reform;
  • The authority of the Scientific and Technical Advisory Panel (STAP) must be increased to ensure donor pressures to transfer their technologies do not undermine both GEF and Convention goals;
  • The GEF Participants must create a new focal area “Policy Works” dedicated to North-South cooperation to develop joint green economic policy reforms;

The GEF Participants must establish a research commission to evaluate means to generate stable and increased funding for public goods through mechanisms such as the Tobin tax and other tax policy change Investigating new options including currency transactions taxes, eliminating tax havens and the tax “race to the bottom” as well as tax loopholes, must become a priority.
9. Further Reading

Anil Agarwal, Sunita Narain and Anju Sharma, Green Politics, Global Environmental Negotiations 1, (New Delhi: Centre for Science and Environment, 1999)
Caufield, Catherine, Masters of Illusion - the World Bank and the Poverty of Nations, (London: Pan, 1996)
Robert O. Keohane and Marc A. Levy, Institutions for Environmental Aid (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1996)
Raymond L. Bryant and Sinead Bailey, Third World Political Ecology (London and New York: Routledge, 1997)
Richard B. Norgaard, Development Betrayed (London and New York: Routledge, 1994)
Wolfgang Sachs (Ed.), Global Ecology, A New Arena of Political Conflict (London and New Jersey: Zed Books 1995)
Sonja Boehmer-Christiansen and Zoe Young, ‘Green Energy Facilitated? The Uncertain Function of the Global Environment Facility’, in Energy and Environment, vol. 9, no. 1, 1998
David Fairman, ‘Report of the Independent Evaluation of the Global Environment Facility Pilot Phase’, in Environment, vol. 36, no. 6, 1994
Joyeeta Gupta, ‘The Global Environment Facility in its North-South Context’, Environmental Politics, vol.4, no.1, 1995
Korinna Horta,. “Rainforest: Biodiversity Conservation and the Political Economy of International Financial Institutions,” in Philip Stott and Sian Sullivan (eds): Political Ecology – Science, Myth and Power, (London: Arnold and New York: Oxford University Press , 2000)
Korinna Horta, ‘The Global Environment Facility’ in Percival, Miller, Schroeder and Leape (eds): Environmental Regulation, Law, Science and Policy (New York: Aspen Law & Business, 2000)
Korinna Horta, ‘The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund’ in Jacob Werksman (ed): Greening International Institutions (London: Earthscan Publications, 1996)
Robin Round, ‘Financing the Persistent Organic Pollutants Convention- An Options Paper’ (Toronto/Washington: WWF, 2000)
Robin Round, ‘Fiddling While Rome Burns – How World Bank Financing of Fossil Fuel Project Undermines the GEF’. (Ottawa: Halifax Initiative.1998)
Robin Round and Susan Tanner, ‘Meeting Environmental Goals Through Lessons Learned – An Analysis of the Multilateral Fund and the Global Environment Facility.’ (Ottawa: Environment Canada, 1995)
Peter H. Sand, ‘The Potential Impact of the Global Environment Facility of the World Bank, UNDP and UNEP’), in Wolfrum, R. (ed.), Enforcing Environmental Standards: Economic Mechanisms as Viable Means? (Heidelberg: Springer Verlag, 1996)
Robert Wade, ‘Greening the Bank: The Struggle over the Environment, 1970-1995’, in Devesh Kapur, John P. Lewis and Richard Webb (eds): The World Bank: Its First Half Century, vol. 2, Perspectives, (Washington DC: Brookings Institution Press, 1997)
Zoe Young, ‘Friendly Foes? NGOs and the Global Environment Facility’, in Rootes, Chris (ed.) Environmental Movements: Local, National and Global, (London: Frank Cass, 1999)
Zoe Young, George Makoni and Sonja Boehmer-Christiansen, ‘Green Aid in India and Zimbabwe - Conserving Whose Community?’ in Geoforum, no. 32, 2001
World Bank and GEF Documents
GEF, Instrument for the Establishment of the Restructured GEF (Washington DC, 1994)
GEF, Independent Evaluation of the GEF Pilot Phase (Washington DC, 1994)
GEF, Operational Strategy (Washington DC, 1996)
GEF, Valuing the Global Environment, Actions & Investments for a 21st Century (Washington DC, 1998)
GEF, Overall Performance Study (Washington DC, 1998)
GEF, Overall Performance Study (Washington DC, 2002)
The World Bank, Operations Evaluation Department, Effectiveness of Environmental Assessments and National Environmental Action Plans: A Process Study (Washington DC, 1996)
World Wide Web
GEF home page: <>
List of GEF publications: <>
World Bank's web page concerning the GEF: <

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Conscious Cinema is an arts collective turned video production company based in central London. Conscious Cinema produces educational, entertainment and documentary films on environmental, cultural and social issues. These include, for example, a video letter to the World Bank from Nagarhole forest dwellers opposed to the GEF-funded India Ecodevelopment Project.
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[1] ‘Northern’ governments including North American, Western European and Japan, make the major contributions to GEF funds and are referred to as ‘donors’. The terms ‘South’ and ‘Southern’ refer to countries that are recipients of multilateral development aid funds including the GEF. They include former communist countries as well as countries in Central and South America, Africa, Asia and the Pacific region.
[2] Speaking to an inter-governmental group of environmental ministers meeting on international environmental governance, Bonn, July 2001.
[3] The Framework Convention on Climate Change, The Convention on Biological Diversity, The Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer and the Convention to Combat Desertification (insofar as it relates to the GEF’s four focal areas) as well as the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants.
[4] GEF. Instrument for the Establishment of the Restructured Global Environment Facility. 1994. Basic Provisions.6.
[5] Funding from the GEF is limited to “recipient countries” which are parties to specific environmental agreements or which qualify for technical assistance grants from the United Nations Development Programme or loans from the World Bank. They include developing countries and countries with economies in transition (former East Bloc).
[6] The G8, comprised of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United States and Russia, controls 68% of the world's monetized economy yet make up only 14% of the world’s population. The G7 invited Russia to join in 1999, but in practise, Russia has limited leverage in this powerful group.
[7] GEF contributions are based on the World Bank’s International Development Assistance formula.
[8] UN Food and Agricultural Organization, United Nations Industrial Development Organization, the International Fund for Agricultural Development.
[9] GEF. Instrument for the Establishment of the Restructured Global Environment Facility. Basic Provisions. 1994.6.
[10] GEF. Second Overall Performance Study. 2002. ix.
[11] The World Commission on Environment and Development. Our Common Future. 1987. Oxford.43.
[12] GEF, Procurement Report, GEF/R.2/Inf.2 1997.
[13] Interview, Zoe Young with World Bank staff, 1997.
[14] GEF. Study of the GEF’s Overall Performance. 1998.70.
[15] ibid. 71.
[16] ibid. 70.
[17] ibid. 71.
[18] GF. Second Overall Performance Study. 2002.60.
[19] Interview – Zoe Young.1996.
[20] That is, projects falling under more than one of GEF’s four ‘focal areas’.
[21] Interview by Zoe Youndg, World Bank, 1997.
[22] As of July 22, 2002, the USA, (the largest contributor and often in arrears) owed 153.712 SDR million, Italy owed 32.07 SDR millions and Pakistan owed 1 million for a total of 186.78 SDR millions. An SDR is the equivalent of 1.31302 US$ (as of August 8, 2002) Thus, the total owed is US$ 245.25 million. Source:
[23] The breakdown is as follows: US $2.21 billion is new commitments, .570 billion is carryover, 130 billion is interest/investment income, .012 billion is the credit from accelerated encashment for a total of US$ 2.922 billion. Source: GEF Secretariat interview by Robin Round, August, 2002.
[24] Unspent due to delays in designing, approving and getting projects off the ground.
[25] Iinterview by Zoe Young, UN. 1998.
[26] UNDP, Human Development Report. 1998.33.
[27] Interview by Zoe Young. 1997.
[28] GEF. Instrument for the Establishment of the Restructured Global Environment Facility.1994.6-7.
[29] GEF.Report of the Independent Evaluation of the Global Environment Facility Pilot Phase. November 23, 1993.10.
[30] Through GEF’s Scientific and Technical Advisory Panel (STAP).
[31] GEF. Second Overall Performance Study. 2002.89.
[32] ibid. ix.
[33] ibid. 84.
[34] GEF. Independent Evaluation of the Pilot Phase. May, 1994.137.
[35] ibid.135. This tendency was also highlighted in the World Bank’s own Wapenhans Report.
[36]GEF. Second Overall Performace Study. 2002. 59.
[37] GEF. Independent Evaluation of the Pilot Phase. 1994.134.
[38] GEF. Study of the GEF’s Overall Performance. 1998. Executive Summary. xiv.
[39] Caufield, Catherine. Masters of Illusion, 1996.
[40] GEF Second Overall Performance Study. January 25, 2002. 63.
[41] ibid. 66.
[43] United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Third Assessment Report, Synthesis Report. 12.
[44] GEF. Results from the GEF Climate Change Program. Evaluation Report #1-02.20021.5.
[45] Wysham, Daphne. Institute for Policy Studies. From figures on the Sustainable Energy and Economy Network database at
[46] GEF. Study of the GEF’s Overall Performance. March 2, 1998. xiv.
[47] ibid. xv.
[48] ibid. 32.
[49] GEF. Independent Evaluation of the Pilot Phase. 1994. 50-51.
[50] Monitoring and Evaluation Working Paper 1, Achieving Sustainability of Biodiversity Conservation. July 2000. 19.
[51] Wapenhans, W.A. A Report of the Portfolio Management Taskforce. The World Bank. 1992
[52] Audit Committee, Committee on Development Effectiveness. Safeguard Policy Framework: OED Comments on Systemic Issues. July 25, 2000.3.
[53] Algeria, Argentina, Brazil, Comoros, Dominican Republic, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Lebanon, Malawi, Mexico, Nigeria, Philippines, Senegal, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Turkey, Vietnam, Western Samoa and Zimbabwe. Information provided by Neil Tangri and derived from a study by the Multinational Resource Resource Center and Health Care without Harm – “The World Bank’s Dangerous Medicine – Promoting Medical Waste Incineration in Third World Countries”. June 1999.
[54] LeBlanc. Consultant’s Report on Lessons Learned in the Pilot-Phase – Cameroon Biodiversity Conservation and Management Project. 1997.6.
[55] External Compliance Monitoring Group. Report on Fourth Site Visit. January 2002.
[56] Kenya Times, “Residents Reject World bank Plan” May 8, 1993.
[57] Multinational Monitor, “Troubled Waters – World Bank Disasters along Kenya’s Tana River”, July/August 1994.
[58] GEF. Independent Evaluation of the Pilot Phase.1994.80.
[59] UNDP. Summary of the Second Independent Evaluation of the GEF Small Grants Programme: the Transition to an Operational Phase. June, 1998.
[60] Interview by Zoe Young at UNDP, 1997.
[61] Interview, UNDP, 1997.
[62] Zoe Young interview with NGO, 1998.
[63] For example,a 1994 ‘coal to waste-wood combustion project’ in Poland was one of many SGP projects to be replicated, in this case “upscaled” after an extended application process, to a Medium Sized Project.
[64] UNDP. The GEF Small Grants Programme, 1992-2002: Hands-on Action for Sustainable Development, 2002.