Global Environment Facility finally plans to adopt social safeguards

Global Environment Facility finally plans to adopt social safeguards

In October 2010, the head of the GEF, Monique Barbut, announced that the GEF would be developing safeguard policies. These safeguards will address the environmental and social impacts of projects, and specifically address the particular concerns of indigenous peoples. The safeguards will apply to all of the GEF’s Implementing and Executing Agencies and an external institution, or agency of some form, will monitor compliance. Indigenous peoples have seized this opportunity and have developed and presented a proposal to the GEF Council, outlining how a policy addressing their concerns could be developed.

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The Global Environment Facility (GEF) is the financial mechanism for the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) and UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD).

GEF funded projects are implemented by a range of agencies (the ‘GEF Implementing and Executing Agencies’), which include the World Bank and the UN Development and Environment Programmes (UNDP, UNEP, FAO) as well as regional development banks. Most of the funds are spent on climate change adaptation and mitigation projects and biodiversity projects in developing countries. In its fifth replenishment the GEF received a $4.25bn pledge from its donors, which was a large increase on previous years. The GEF has distributed only twice that amount, in total, to projects since its establishment in 1991.

For years, NGOs including Forest Peoples Programme (FPP) have pointed out the anomaly that the GEF has its own public participation policy (adopted in 1996), but has resisted calls to adopt a range of safeguards to deal with human rights and the protection of Indigenous Peoples and vulnerable communities. Since the creation of the GEF, its Implementing and Executing Agencies have been bound solely by their own safeguards. Some Agencies have lacked safeguards, while other Agencies have applied uneven standards across the GEF portfolio of projects. This means that where damages occur as a result of a project, recourse and grievance mechanisms may not be available to the impacted people, depending on the Implementing and Executing Agency overseeing that GEF-funded project.

In October 2010, the head of the GEF, Monique Barbut, announced that the GEF would be developing safeguard policies. These safeguards will address the environmental and social impacts of projects, and specifically address the particular concerns of indigenous peoples. The safeguards will apply to all of the GEF’s Implementing and Executing Agencies and an external institution, or agency of some form, will monitor compliance.

Indigenous peoples have seized this opportunity and have developed and presented a proposal to the GEF Council, outlining how a policy addressing their concerns could be developed. What remains to be seen is whether the GEF will follow through on its commitments and to what extent it will allow civil society and indigenous peoples’ groups to guide the process. Indigenous leaders stress that almost all governments participating in the GEF have endorsed the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), and as such they must fulfil their commitment to ensure the full participation of indigenous peoples in international standard setting, including under the activities of the GEF.

Such an important GEF commitment on public accountability could stimulate a sea change in environmental policy, but only if effective rights-based standards are adopted and rules are put in place that are respectful of indigenous rights and ways of life. FPP and its Partners have shown that if safeguard policies are superficial, ambiguous or contain loopholes, they will be ineffectual for impacted communities.

The outcome hinges on the precise content of these safeguards, how they are monitored in practice and how complaints, grievances and non-compliance are dealt with. Social justice NGOs, indigenous peoples’ organisations and development NGOs will need to scrutinise the policy formulation process in the coming months to try and make sure that effective standards are taken on board by the GEF.