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Q&A: Transforming the Way the Global Environment is Managed

Busani Bafana interviews Dr. NAOKO ISHII, the newly appointed CEO and chairperson of the Global Environment Facility (GEF)

BULAWAYO, Zimbabwe, Jul 18 2012 (IPS) - The Global Environment Facility (GEF) is ready to be a catalyst for transforming the way the global environment is managed, said the next CEO and chairperson of the multilateral institution, Dr. Naoko Ishii, in this interview with Tierramérica *.

The GEF recognizes the inseparable linkage between environmental and economic well-being, which was reaffirmed at the Rio+20 summit held in late June in Brazil, stressed Ishii, who will take up her new position on Aug. 1, after holding a number of high-level posts in the government of her native Japan and various international institutions.

Dr. Naoko Ishii will be the second woman to lead the Global Environment Facility. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

Against the backdrop of the current global economic recession, the GEF is placing emphasis on “multi-focal area projects” that address a number of different problems at the same time, explained Ishii, who has a B.A. in economics and a Ph.D. in international studies from the University of Tokyo.

“We no longer view the global environment as a series of environmental ‘silos’ – divided up between the issues of climate change, biodiversity, and so forth,” said Ishii, who spoke with Tierramérica by electronic mail and telephone.

The GEF was created as a financing mechanism for the three major environmental conventions born at the 1992 Earth Summit on Rio de Janeiro, on climate change, biodiversity and desertification.

Today it is the largest public funder of projects to improve the global environment. It provides grants for projects related to biodiversity, climate change, international waters, land degradation, the ozone layer and persistent organic pollutants.

In June it approved the largest work program to date for addressing global environmental challenges, allocating 507 million dollars and leveraging 4.4 billion dollars in co-financing for projects in 111 countries.

Q: What does “The Future We Want”, the outcome document of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20), mean for the work of the GEF?

A: The final communiqué of the summit reaffirms the linkage between environmental and economic well-being. We view these two aspirations as inseparable. While the main goal of the GEF is supporting projects and programs in the developing world and in countries with economies in transition that will deliver global environmental benefits, a key component of those benefits is the economic component.

We don’t just want to preserve forests, we want to preserve them so that they can continue in their life-sustaining and livelihood-sustaining role – providing food and fuel, cleaning our air, holding soil in place, regulating our climate, and so on.

We protect biodiversity not just because it’s a good thing to do, but because doing so protects life forms that are key links in the overall global fabric of life that sustains economic growth.

Specific to the GEF, the language of the communiqué endorses the policy direction of the GEF in terms of making GEF resources more readily accessible, simplifying procedures and enhancing coordination with other instruments and programs that support sustainable development.

Q: What particular challenge have you identified facing the GEF?

A: The challenge facing the GEF is how to scale up the good results that have been achieved in projects at the national and regional level so as to deliver sustainable impacts at a scale to meet major looming challenges in the global environment.

I believe it is critical to enhance the leverage of the GEF by strengthening our constructive partnerships with stakeholders. My approach will integrate good results achieved to date at the project level with the formulation of policy for achieving sustainable impacts at scale.

Q: How do you intend to strengthen the GEF’s success in raising international funding given the global recession and the increased demand for value-for-money programming?

A: I have represented the Government of Japan in very difficult replenishment negotiations such as the discussions of the Asian Development Fund just concluded in May 2012. My hands-on experience tells me that securing continued robust funding support requires first, clearly assessed needs and goals; second, a clearly articulated strategy to achieve those goals; and third, obtaining and maintaining the confidence of donors in our ability to deliver results.

Even as we pursue this strategy, we may need to explore all options available to us given the very difficult global economic situation and the evolving environmental financial architecture.

Q: How do you see the GEF transforming the way in which the global environment is managed?

A: The big trend in the work of the GEF is in the direction of multi-focal area projects, that is, projects that simultaneously address multiple environmental challenges in a single project. We no longer view the global environment as a series of environmental “silos” – divided up between the issues of climate change, desertification, biodiversity, chemical pollution, international waters and so forth.

Increasingly we understand that these categories are integrally connected and that the most effective programs are those that address multiple focal areas at once. A single program aimed at combating desertification, for example, can also have a powerful impact on maintaining biodiversity while also reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Another key feature is the move towards what we call the programmatic approach (partnerships between the GEF, one or more countries, and other stakeholders, such as the private sector, the scientific community and civil society). This has enabled the GEF to mainstream the results of its work.

The GEF has already moved strongly in these directions and I plan to continue this positive momentum.

Q: What future do you want for the GEF?

A: I want the GEF to play an integral leadership role in transforming the way the global environment is managed. Incremental change will not be enough, given the magnitude of the challenge we are facing. In order for the GEF to play that critical role, it is critical for it to continue to be a promoter of innovation, an honest champion of global commons, a catalyst of transformational change and a partner of choice.

We need to be hard-headed in how we evaluate the success of our projects. Importantly, we need to achieve sustaining impacts by scaling up GEF-funded projects that have proved successful. The money the GEF invests generates many times that amount in additional investment – or co-financing – in support of environmental and sustainable development projects.

The impacts are also augmented not only by the amount of money but also by the ideas and new ways of doing business brought by partners. I believe the GEF is best positioned to play a leading role in bringing transformational change by forming a catalytic and constructive partnership with stakeholders.

* This story was originally published by Latin American newspapers that are part of the Tierramérica network. Tierramérica is a specialised news service produced by IPS with the backing of the United Nations Development Programme, United Nations Environment Programme and the World Bank.

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