GEF Assembly Meet

The first ever Assembly meet of the Global Environment Facility (GEF) was held in New Delhi from April 1-3, 1998. The Indian delegation to the Assembly was led by Suresh P Prabhu, Union Minister, Environment & Forests. The Assembly adopted the New Delhi statement and agreed that GEF should remain a facility at the cutting edge; innovative, flexible and responsive to the needs of its recipient countries, as well as a catalyst for other institutions and efforts. It also agreed that its activities should be country driven and efforts should be strengthened to achieve country ownership of GEF projects.


Need for Global Partnership on Sustainable Development Atal Behari Vajpayee, Prime Minister of India

I am happy to address you on the occasion of the inauguration of the first ever Assembly Meeting of the Global Environment Facility. It is indeed befitting that the first Assembly Meeting of this international co-operative venture should be held in the developing world and that too in India.

The twentieth century has witnessed major developments which have momentous impact not only on the lives of human beings but also on planet earth. These include an unprecedented growth in population and in consumption, rapidly increasing urbanisation, dramatic changes in the global economic system and the revolution in communication technology. As we are poised on the threshold of the third millennium, we have become increasingly aware that the process of development, including industrialisation and economic growth, have come at a huge cost to society, to the environment and to our very future.

Pressure on Global Life Support System

In some ways it is ironical that some of the achievements of the twentieth century themselves pose the challenges for the twenty-first century. With almost six billion people inhabiting this earth, and the global GDP approaching $30 trillion, the pace of human and economic activity is putting pressure on global life support systems. We witness the depletion of non-renewable natural resources, the continued destruction of life sustaining forests and illegal international trade in protected species of flora and fauna. There is an on-going depletion of our planet s biological treasures and the threat of an acceleration in global warming and in the green-house effect. In short, there is a rapid globalisation of environmental destruction. The environmental impact of human activity is no longer restricted to man made national boundaries.

The problems of environmental degradation call for more than scientific and technological solutions. They require the re-establishment of environmental ethics and values practised in traditional societies, with economic development based on these issues. India, as one of the traditional societies, has always believed in the integrality and sacredness of nature, with all-pervading peace as the ultimate purpose of all existence and activity. The age old philosophy of co-existence is not one merely for co-existence of human beings, but it is in fact a basic premise of all living beings and of harmony within the cosmos. The delicate balance of nature has to be restored, even as we have to ensure complementarity and co-existence of different life forms, between plants and animals and between nature and man. The balance of five basic elements - the panchtatva - air, water, fire, the earth and the sky has to be restored.

Need for New Partnership

Based on our experience and understanding of global environment we realise today that sustainable development at the national level cannot be pursued in isolation. The quality of life of the nations today as also in the future, depends to a very large extent on the policies and actions that the fellow nations of the world pursue. Against this background, new partnerships have to be established for conservation and sustainable development while ensuring equitable distribution of technology and social advancement. Promoting these partnerships requires making the most of the diverse repertoire of knowledge, skills, perceptions and of assets belonging to a wide cross-section of nations and societies.

When we analyse the nature of pollutants, we find that both affluence and poverty contribute to their high levels. The problems of the industrialised and the developed world stem from their high levels of economic activity and consumption. The degeneration of forests and natural resources in the developing countries, on the other hand, can be attributed largely to the lack of resources and alternative source of energy and income generation. The strategies to tackle these two distinct causes, therefore, need to be significantly different. In the case of the rich and developed world, the issues can be best handled by laying stringent emission norms, limits on pollutants and by enforcing these stringent norms and limitations. However, for the developing and the under-developed world, the best approach would be to put into place an incentive structure that would encourage conservation and discourage the scavenging of nature, without compromising economic development and rapid alleviation of poverty. For the developing countries, we should make concerted efforts to facilitate and promote adoption of environment friendly techniques of production and also undertake far greater measures to disseminate information about the ill-effects of polluting forces.

As part of international efforts to contain the ill effects of environmental degradation and to encourage sustainable development, nations have put in place several ecological treaties like the Montreal Protocol, the Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Convention on Bio-diversity, the Convention to Combat Desertification etc. Although much attention seems to be focussed on climate change, on global warming and ozone layer, very little is being done to address environmental problems facing poor societies, whether it be paucity of clean drinking water or poor sanitary conditions.

Let me reiterate that if we are committed to successfully address the challenges of sustainable development, and hence of environmental conservation, then it will require an international movement, the like of which has never been seen before. It will require effective integration of the sporadic efforts being made by the different players whether it be international organisations, national governments, or non governmental organisations; whether it is business and the forces of conservation.

Most important, however, will be the need to make environment protection a people s movement - with the close, participative involvement of the local communities, governmental bodies, NGOs, international bodies like the GEF, industry and various economic service providers. History has shown that all good ideas begin to make the desired impacts only when they become mass movements. It is high time that environment protection be made a national and international people s movement. It is in the self-interest of the nation states and in the larger interests of the world we live in, that we leave behind a better world for our children.

Rio Earth Summit

Since the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, many international business leaders have taken the lead in urging the business community to be environmentally more sensitive and responsive. The presence of all of you, ladies and gentlemen at this first-ever Assembly Meeting of the Global Environment Facility is very heartening and speaks of your commitment to the cause that we address together. During the post- Rio phase, the GEF is one of the instruments that has emerged to give effect to various Rio agreements. The restructuring of the GEF in 1994 has given confidence in the vitality and responsiveness of this institution. As the GEF is a unique expression of the partnership forged at Rio between the North and the South, between the UN system and the Bretton-Woods system, it would be our collective endeavour to sustain and strengthen it as an effective instrument of co-operation for promoting sustainable development.

The imperative of sustainable development places a common responsibility on rich as well as developing nations to concentrate their R & D efforts on three immediate projects: one, all-out effort to harness renewable sources of energy on a large-scale and at a lower or comparable costs; two, development and commercialisation of new materials; and, three, across-the-board introduction of energy-saving techniques and management practices. After all, energy saved is energy produced.

The Government of India is committed to rapid and sustainable development, which we believe is the surest way of improving the living standards of our people and eradicating the curse of poverty from our nation. We see strong complementarity between the goals of economic development and improvement in the environment. We must never forget that abject poverty, and all that goes with it, is the worst blight on our planet s environment.

I would like to mention here that India has been in the forefront of voicing the developing nations concerns over environment protection and sustainable development on various international platforms. For example, it was an Indian Prime Minister who put forward this new agenda in the first global environmental summit in Stockholm in 1972. Since then, my country has been consistently championing this cause.

National Agenda for Governance

Naturally, the imperative of sustainable development has found a strong resonance within the country, too. As we have indicated in our National Agenda for Governance, we will continue with economic reforms, strengthen macroeconomic stability, and devote special attention to the development of infrastructure, agriculture and education. We firmly believe that more and better education, especially at primary and secondary levels, is a crucial pre-requisite for both rapid economic development and a more informed and effective social and legal framework for preserving and improving our environment.

We are convinced that in areas such as education, rural infrastructure, water resources management and land use, the Government can and must articulate effective combination of social expenditures, appropriate incentives and realistic regulatory systems to jointly serve the goals of rapid, broad-based development and environmental improvements. We propose to establish effective legal frameworks for the protection of the environment, and to unveil a comprehensive National Environment Policy to harmonise the demands of development and environment and to balance the needs of the present and the future.

The principle that poverty alleviation and economic development are the first priorities of developing countries, must continue to be the guiding factor for all international co-operation. The GEF has built on this principle to begin implementation of sustainable development goals, within its area of concern. It deserves our full and unanimous support through adequate and timely contribution from all those that provide such contributions, and through efficient and meaningful use of the GEF resources by those who receive them.

We are proud to be the partners in the establishment, evolution and growth of the GEF. Amongst the recipient countries, India is one of the largest contributors to the GEF replenishment, and we have contributed more than any of the other recipients donors.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, I welcome you to this Assembly Meeting in New Delhi and hope that you have a very pleasant stay, and you go back with fond memories of your visit. I also hope that some of you will find time to visit other parts of India and see the richness of our culture and heritage.

I declare the Assembly open and wish you success in your deliberations towards refining the GEF as an effective collaborative instrument for achieving our mutually cherished goals.

The above speech was Prime Minister Shri Atal Behari Vajpayee s inaugural address at the first Assembly Meeting of the Global Environment Facility in New Delhi on April 1, 1998.


Statement by Suresh P Prabhu

Union Minister for Environment & Forests

Mr Chairman, Excellencies and distinguished delegates,

On behalf of the Indian people, I extend a very warm welcome to all of you. I hope that your stay in the historic city of Delhi will be a memorable one. I am happy that this Assembly meet provides us a forum where we can have a meaningful dialogue on the operations and expectations from the Global Environment Facility (GEF) particularly from the developing country perspective. Mr Chairman, on behalf of the Indian delegation, allow me to congratulate you on your election as Chairman of the Assembly. All of us are confident that under your able guidance this meet will be a great success.

The Rio Summit of 1992 brought into focus the relationship between environment and development. It acknowledged that sustained economic growth and eradication of poverty constituted overriding priorities for developing countries. It also recognised that meeting the environmental objectives of Rio would place a great financial burden on developing countries, for which they would need considerable technological and financial assistance. GEF has emerged as one of the most important funding mechanisms to deal with environmental problems.

Independent India has travelled a long way on the path of modernisation and industrialisation. From the very beginning we are committed to the goal of providing a better quality of life to our citizens with better health care, wide-spread education, clean drinking water, housing, etc. Despite our many and varied problems, we have still been able to take very impressive strides in the improvement of the socio-economic conditions of our people, even though much still remains to be done. The economic development that has been achieved has brought in its wake many unwanted consequences with effects on our natural resources. The forest cover has diminished, even though marginally. Our rivers are affected by pollution. Mining and other industrial activities have led to the degradation of land and air pollution is a matter of major concern in the urban areas. Our success would be determined in our ability to meet these and other challenges.

Despite a planned approach and commitment of substantial resources for meeting civic needs of our urban areas, the increase in urban population has put tremendous pressure on civic amenities. Management of municipal and industrial waste water as well as solid waste is a matter of urgent concern.

Another area of priority is the energy requirement for the large population of our country. On the one hand we are making our best attempts to supplement the heavy dependence on biomass resources for rural energy and emphasising the importance of a shift from the biomass resources for energy to commercial energy whether from hydel or thermal sources. At the same time, keeping in view the major environmental consequences of energy from these sources, we have also taken bold steps to limit emissions by appropriate environmental impact assessments of projects and the application of environmentally sound technologies. India greatly appreciates the availability of the funding from GEF in this focal area and I am happy to say that we have been able to pose several appropriate projects to GEF in the area of energy.

In spite of the pressure of a growing population, India has committed extensive resources towards conserving its extensive forests and wildlife. While nearly one fifth of the total land area is covered by forests, we have before us the objective of achieving a further 13 per cent forest cover. Through our wide-spread network of national parks and sanctuaries we have been successful in the preservation of key species such as the tiger and the elephant, in the face of many difficulties.

All these objectives are well supported by legislative and regulatory measures which are aimed at the preservation and protection of environment. Some of them are the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act of 1981, the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act of 1974, the Environment (Protection) Act of 1986 and the Forest (Conservation) Act of 1980. Besides the legislative measures, a National Conservation Strategy and Policy Statement of Environment and Development, a National Forest Policy and a Policy Statement of Abatement of Pollution have been evolved. We are also in the process of formulation of a National Action Plan on conservation of biodiversity.

Many important policies and programmes are in force which are geared to the task of protection of the environment. One of the biggest river cleaning programmes in the world has been taken up in our country starting with the Ganga basin and now extended to the entire country in a programme known as the National River Action Programme. The programme has the objective of improving the water quality of rivers by treating the domestic sewage and industrial effluents before their discharge in the river.

On the issue of air pollution caused by vehicles, the government has initiated various programmes such as tightening of emission norms for new vehicles, introduction of cleaner fuels and catalytic converters for vehicles. The programme for the introduction of unleaded petrol and catalytic converters which presently covers only a few cities would be extended to all the cities,

India is also party to various environment related conventions such as the Montreal Protocol on the Ozone Depleting Substances, the Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Convention on Biodiversity, Basel Convention on Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Wastes and the Convention to Combat Deser-tification, among others. India has been pursuing its commitments under the various conventions vigorously by initiating various measures nationally and by taking several important initiatives in the region. To name a few, we hosted the First Asian Regional Conference on Desertification in India and the SAARC Environment Ministers Conference. The overall objective of GEF of addressing the important global issues under the various Conventions, through its mechanism is being carried out by India by the successful implementation of GEF projects.

India has initiated various projects with GEF assistance in the areas of energy efficiency, renewable energy and biodiversity. The GEF portfolio in India is diverse and varied. As of January 1998, a total of US $ 142.38 million under GEF has been programmed for India. India is the second highest recipient of GEF funding. Under the Small Grants Programme, 24 projects have been funded to the tune of US $ 300,000. Encouraged by the success and response to the programme, the second phase has commenced. India is in a unique position in that it is a donor as well as a recipient country. In 1994 India contributed around US $ 9 million and has again pledged the same amount during the February, 1998 replenishment consultation.

We are gathered here to review the GEF operations and to discuss ways of bringing about the required changes. With this objective in mind, I would like to make a few observations. I think we are all in agreement that the operational programmes under the GEF refer to dynamic sectors and activities. I would like to suggest that in the context of this dynamism, there is need for looking upon the sub-programmes within the sectors, with the required flexibility while also keeping in mind the emerging needs. We understand that GEF is working on programmes for new and emerging technologies, which would get operationalised soon. The GEF mechanism has to be flexible enough to fund projects in areas of such emerging technologies.

Many of the developing countries are faced with the complex and difficult situation of dealing with the criteria of Agreed Full Incremental Costs, calculated in terms of global benefits, which has remained elusive. India s general response has been that the concept should be made as flexible and pragmatic as possible. Specially when seen in the context of biodiversity applications, the nature of biodiversity valuation makes this task very difficult. There are further complicating factors such as establishing a discount rate for biodiversity loss, valuing the benefits of biodiversity conservation and sustainable use, lack of complete understanding of the ecosystem structures and functioning. Another primary problem is the determination of a representative base line cost. A simpler cost calculation method needs to be developed.

I would like to seek your indulgence for sharing our concerns on the lengthy procedures for project approvals. Normally any project would have to be placed for the Council s approval at least three times and the disbursement of funds sometimes takes as many as two - three years. There is a need for greater simplification and delegation of authority based on a pragmatic approach.

I would also like to point out that there is need for greater flexibility in the GEF operational strategy. Strategies on important issues like vehicular pollution, ecosystem conservation, management of lakes, wetlands and mangroves and integrated coastal management need to be fully operationalised early. There is need for easier access to GEF funds. There is also considerable need for a priority being given to national objectives. In vast countries like India and many others, a single pilot or demon-stration project in one area is hardly able to make an adequate impact within a short or medium time-frame. Here the solution does not lie only in replication unless adequate resources are available. GEF should, therefore, consider adopting a suitable approach on a case to case basis. I would like to invite discussions on all these important aspects which are viewed with great concern by the developing countries.

I have been informed that a large amount of investment has been generated through co-financing of GEF projects and that, on an average, GEF funding represents less than 20 per cent of the total project costs. While this is a laudable achievement on the face of it, it should be viewed against the background of decreasing international ODA assistance to developing countries. We strongly urge the developed countries to take account of this situation and to see whether in fact there is a possible diversion of ODA funds to GEF which would take away from any claim towards the avowed objective of providing new and additional funds.

An issue of great concern for the developing countries is the lack of fulfilment by the developed countries of their commitments at the Rio Summit regarding new and additional financial resources and the transfer of environmentally sound technologies. These commitments are the underlying basis of all the important environmental conven-tions also. Six years from Rio we are today faced with the crucial realisation that we must readily and whole-heartedly face the global environmental challenges and accept the paramount need for concerted activities in order to address these challenges. Let us review the GEF working, keeping the spirit of international cooperation as our guiding principle for fostering action to protect the global environment.

The above statement was made by Suresh P. Prabhu, Minister for Environment and Forests at the first Assembly Meeting of the Global Environment Facility in New Delhi on April 1, 1998.