Response to media coverage of UNDP-GEF projects

Jan 31, 2011

Response to media coverage on the recent evaluation of “UNDP Contribution to the Environmental Management for Poverty Reduction: The Poverty Environment Nexus.” (27 January 2011)


  • UNDP strongly believes in the relationship between poverty reduction and sound environmental management. The poor are clearly affected disproportionately by degradation of the natural environment. In rural areas they largely depend on the natural environment for their livelihoods (farming, herding, forestry, fishing, etc), while in urban settings they suffer more than most from urban environmental degradation (water pollution, air pollution, solid wastes, etc).The support for the sustainable use and management of environmental resources in the service of poverty reduction is one of the mainstays of UNDP’s work.
  • One of the main sources of finance for this work is the Global Environmental Facility (GEF) – a financial mechanism that unites 182 member governments with international institutions, nongovernmental organizations, and the private sector — to address global environmental issues. The GEF was established in 1991 to provide grants to developing countries for projects related to biodiversity, climate change, international waters, land degradation, the ozone layer, and persistent organic pollutants. Since its founding, the GEF has allocated US$9.2 billion for more than 2,700 projects in more than 165 developing countries, and countries with economies in transition.
  • As part of this partnership, UNDP disbursed $224 million of GEF grants for environmental programmes in 2009. This accounts for about 44% of UNDP’s activities in this area. In accordance with its mandate, GEF resources entrusted to UNDP are focused on supporting “global environmental benefits”. Such benefits include preserving ecosystems and biological diversity, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, managing international waters, and controlling persistent organic pollutants.
  • Thus most UNDP-GEF projects focus on establishing the enabling policy environment for the conservation of ecosystem services and the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Direct local job creation is only an ancillary, but important, benefit to these efforts. However, by helping transform markets and protect the environment, UNDP is helping countries boost economies by promoting sustainable tourism. In certain developing countries tourism, and especially eco-tourism, is the life-blood of the economy. Media reports and evaluation are correct in noting that UNDP has helped the GEF “recognize how these projects affected poor people in the areas around [them].”
  • Beginning in 2010, UNDP began to monitor a number of additional indirect results achieved through its GEF financed projects.  UNDP found that 135 GEF-funded projects (out of 288 reporting) had created 5,280 jobs of which 2,730 were held by women. Since local job creation is only a secondary benefit to these efforts, it would be incorrect to attribute the total value of these projects to the costs of creating jobs.
Results of GEF-funded UNDP projects include:
  • Biodiversity, land and ecosystems were further protected in 93 countries through 146 projects with the establishment of 112 new protected areas (PAs) covering 8.6 million hectares; the planning and design of 126 new PAs covering 4.8 million hectares; and the strengthening of 722 existing PAs covering 133 million hectares between 2005 and 2010. Protected Areas are clearly defined geographical locations recognized for their environmental value and are protected via legal or other means for long-term conservation.
  • Greenhouse gas emissions were further reduced in 77 countries through 69 projects through the promotion of energy efficiency and renewable energy initiatives. 14 energy efficiency projects contributed to avoiding 20.2 Mt of CO2 emissions and 30 renewable energy projects contributed to avoiding 4.3 Mt of CO2 emissions during the reporting period.
  • International waters and water ecosystems were strengthened in 93 countries through 26 projects through the promotion of governance and management reforms. Significant progress was made in the preparation of 8 strategic action programmes and 2 others were formally adopted for the Yellow Sea and Niger River Basin. These will help address depleted fisheries, reduce nutrient pollution, apply integrated approaches to watershed and coastal area management, and reduce the risk of invasive species from ship ballast water.   
  • Approaches to climate change adaptation were developed in 29 countries through 16 projects funded under the Special Climate Change Fund and Least Developed Country Fund.
  • Persistent organic pollutants were better managed in 9 countries through 10 projects that helped dispose of 1,295 Mt of dangerous chemicals and safeguard another 220 Mt.
  • The publicly-available internal evaluation mentioned in the press coverage was commissioned by UNDP as part of the regular review of all our programmes, and assists UNDP management to improve overall performance. As one expects from a robust and purposeful evaluation, it identifies both areas of success and those requiring continued strengthening. Overall, this evaluation positively underscores UNDP’s capacity to critically assess and benchmark its work with a view to ensuring it maintains a world’s best approach to tackling poverty and addressing pressing global challenges.
  • The evaluation recognised UNDP’s progress in promoting strong links between its poverty and environmental programmes. The first conclusion confirms that “addressing the poverty-environment nexus is essential to achieving the UNDP mission.” Furthermore, it notes that UNDP has made significant contributions to raising global awareness in this area.
  • Regarding environmental safeguards, it is inappropriate to compare UNDP and the World Bank. UNDP does not fund major infrastructure projects with loans like the World Bank, which needs relevant safeguards to protect such investments. However, to align UNDP to international best practice, policies and procedures to ensure environmental and social safeguards in all of its work are being rolled out in 2011.
  • Finally, both the evaluation and the media reports are correct in asserting that the poverty-environment nexus can be managed differently so that environmental and, increasingly, climate change initiatives can lead to better livelihoods, employment opportunities and living standards in a global “green economy”. UNDP and its many partners are committed to helping make this a reality.

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