Naoko Ishii, CEO and chairperson of Global Environment Facility. Photo by: Global Environment Facility / CC BY-NC-SA

Naoko Ishii, CEO of the Global Environment Facility, is an economist. Perhaps she sees the current global environmental challenge as a supply chain management crisis.

GEF now has a new approach for tackling “mega” environmental problems. The organization’s current appeal for funding “replenishment” from its contributing countries, focuses less on supporting programs that target individual goals  like climate change adaptation  and more on changing the way environmentally-destructive practices are influenced by markets, technologies and regulations.

“Business-as-usual doesn’t really help us,” she said at the Woodrow Wilson International Center in Washington, D.C. on Monday.

GEF however has yet to attach figures to its new framework, so it is not clear what this means for conservation and development project implementers. But the rhetoric, at least, suggests that the organization is going in a new direction. 

“If there is no bold action, the world we will be seeing in 2030 will be a very different and uncomfortable world,” stressed Ishii.

Instead of what she calls “business-as-usual” one-off projects, Ishii hopes that GEF will be able leverage the organization’s brand and name recognition as a mediator of global environmental problems and risk-taker in the early adoption and demonstration of new technologies.

The head of the Global Environmental Facility cited a “very crowded” arena of environmental finance as one of the reasons why they have decided to move away from supporting incremental projects, where she feels they have struggled to make a meaningful impact in the face of huge challenges.

GEF’s new strategy

Before, GEF would fund country programs that focused only on “land degradation” or a number of other specific “focal areas,” whereas now the organization is looking at 4 broad themes  Green Cities, Smart Food Systems, Healthy Oceans and Coasts, and Resilient Ecosystems  to structure its programs.

Projects developed under these themes will involve solutions from different focal areas. For example, a Green Cities program could include climate change mitigation, water, and adaptation, each of which would have been undertaken in a separate country program under GEF’s previous strategy.

Palm oil, a commodity market that has created huge negative externalities through deforestation, was mentioned by Ishii as an example of the sort of integrated intervention that the they are pursuing across a range of countries and sectors at the same time.

The key, she explained, is to look at the sequence of players along the palm oil value chain: “At each interaction we should be able to subsidize or disincentivize  to change the behavior (…) It may be a good idea for us to strengthen that supply chain analysis  that supply chain approach. We at GEF have been very, very interested in joining that effort.”

The new approach, Ishii said, is about carving out a distinct role from other environmental finance bodies, like the Green Climate Fund, which has been recently gaining traction in climate negotiations.

“I don’t expect just to be a delivery channel,” she commented regarding GEF’s role in future financing efforts. More details on this should come out ahead of the organziation’s second replenishment meeting for GEF-6 in September.

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About the author

  • Michael Igoe

    Michael Igoe is a Senior Reporter with Devex, based in Washington, D.C. He covers U.S. foreign aid, global health, climate change, and development finance. Prior to joining Devex, Michael researched water management and climate change adaptation in post-Soviet Central Asia, where he also wrote for EurasiaNet. Michael earned his bachelor's degree from Bowdoin College, where he majored in Russian, and his master’s degree from the University of Montana, where he studied international conservation and development.