Money matters

As the first-ever assembly of the 161-member Global Environment Facility (GEF) draws near, many non-governmental organisations are left out in the cold. Only 28 such organisations worldwide are being funded by the GEF to attend the assembly

By Mahesh Acharya
Published: Sunday 15 March 1998

-- (Credit: Sanjay Ghosh)since its inception in 1991, the Global Environment Facility, a joint-project of the United Nations Development Programme (undp), United Nations Environment Programme (unep) and the World Bank (wb) has become an arena for North-South bickering. The gef 's ambitious mandate of finding solutions to environmental problems remains all the more elusive with the forthcoming 161-nation assembly to be held in New Delhi from April 1 to 3 offering little breakthrough. Left in the cold, non-governmental organisations (ngos) from the South now question not only the funding modalities of the gef, but also the key concerns of the facility.

On February 9 ,G Hutton Archer and Alexandria Bezredi of the gef , met representatives of several ngo s in New Delhi to prepare an agenda for the council meeting preceding the assembly. At the meeting, the gef representatives were confronted with a flood of complaints. The representatives from the ngo s complained that funds for projects were not being granted and correspondence regarding these projects was being ignored. Among the ngos who attended the meeting were the Society for Promotion of Wasteland Development (spwd) , wwf -India, Development Alternatives, Participatory Research in Asia and Ranthambhore Foundation.

"Present evaluation of projects and the bureaucratic set up of gef is slowing down the implementation of already cleared projects," says Kalipada Chaterjee who is with Development Alternatives. "Why were ngo complaints on the gef , such as the World Bank Ecodevelopment project not taken up? Does the gef really listen to the opinions of ngos ? " asks Anju Sharma from the Centre for Science and Environment (cse), New Delhi.

The ngo critique of gef is not limited to the subject of modalities. Policy issues are also in the line of fire. ngos from the South feel that the gef's stress on four key issues - climate change, ozone depletion, biodiversity and oceans - is not in tune with the needs of the South. "Environmental problems of developing countries are entirely different," says Chaterjee. "For example, while using natural resources, the people from developing countries cause little damage to the environment, compared to what people from the developed countries do when they use the same resources," she says. Vinod Mishra of spwd says that India has had good experiences in the management of the environment with full participation of communities. "Such experiences are not reflected in gef project portfolios," he says.

Walter Fernandes of the Indian Social Institute, New Delhi, does not agree with the assembly's idea of sharing and learning of experiences. " ngos feel they are left out if they are not able to negotiate on basic issues such as the nature of funding, which is all what gef is about," says Fernandes. However, Hutton told the ngos that the gef council, which takes all decisions, was adamant on the number of ngos on account of coming to a consensus on various policies quickly rather than beating around the bush on terms not agreeable by the ngos.

What makes any such solutions difficult is the complex governance structure of the gef . The gef comprises of three layers - the council, the assembly and the secretariat. The main governing body is the council of 32 constituencies - 16 from developing countries, 14 from the developed countries and two from transitional economies. The assembly comprises representatives of all the participating countries. The third body is the secretariat that mediates between the council, the assembly as well as the ngo community.

The assembly will discuss some of the issues that need to be addressed by the council members in April. In the forthcoming meeting, it will have to convince donors about responding to the environmental challenges of developing countries such as emission trading, climate change and biodiversity conservation. Another issue which will be raised and will have to be accepted by gef is responsibilities of the project and policies that have gone astray. Governments have also been unable to negotiate on common environmental concerns, mainly because the gef has become a forum where they have to compete against each other for funds. The South's friction with gef dates back to the days when ngos in the developing countries opposed its very formation in 1991, because of the wb's key role in deciding gef project portfolios. The wb 's tight fiscal measures were branded anti-poor and often anti-environmental in many of the countries of the South.

There are many global environmental issues that get linked to the gef , as it is the mandated financial mechanism to fund appropriate management strategies. However, the limited agenda of the assembly has not left any room for discussion on these issues.

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