Order Code RS21858
Updated March 5, 2008
Global Environment Facility (GEF): Overview
Susan R. Fletcher
Specialist in International Environmental Policy
Resources, Science, and Industry Division
The Global Environment Facility (GEF), established in 1991, has served since then
as a primary source of funding for several major international environmental concerns.
It was designed to provide incremental additional funding for development projects, in
order to allow incorporation of environmental considerations in four specified areas:
climate change, ozone depletion, biological diversity, and international waters. In recent
years, land degradation and persistent organic pollutants have been added to its agenda.
The GEF has provided funding to more than 1,900 projects in 160 nations. Although
the United States has participated in the GEF since its inception, its level of
contributions to the GEF has varied widely, from $30 million in 1994 to a high of $167
million in 1999, and to $81.7 million in 2008.
The Global Environment Facility was established in 1991 to serve as a key source
of funding for international environmental needs in four areas: climate change,
stratospheric ozone depletion, biological diversity, and international waters. In recent
years, two other areas have been added to the GEF agenda: land degradation —
particularly deforestation and desertification — and persistent organic pollutants. The
GEF has not been intended or designed to fund entire projects; rather, it is to provide
“incremental funding” that would cover the additional costs needed to provide
environmental benefits connected to the issues on the GEF agenda. However, over the
years it has evolved into functions that involve funding for a wide variety of activities for
planning, national action plans, and others, in addition to incremental funding on specific
projects.1 According to the GEF, it has provided $6.8 billion in grants for more than
1,900 projects in 160 countries.
The GEF has three implementing agencies: the World Bank, which administers GEF
funding; the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), which oversees small grants
and project development; and the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), which
serves as scientific and technical adviser.
Extensive information on GEF activities, projects, and operations is available on its website:
Some 176 nations are participants in the GEF (including both donor and recipient
countries), and meet every four years in a General Assembly to agree on funding levels,
called “replenishment.” Responsibility for developing, adopting, and evaluating GEF
programs is vested in the GEF Council, of which 32 countries are members, 16 from
developing countries, 14 from developed countries, and 2 from former communist nations
(“economies in transition”). Membership in the council rotates among GEF parties. At
the 2006 replenishment, GEF participants agreed to funding of $3.13 billion from 32
donor countries for operations over the next four years. The U.S. commitment was for
$320 million, to be paid in four installments of $80 million from 2007 through 2010.
The GEF has been designated the primary “financial mechanism” for several global
environmental treaties, including the Convention on Biological Diversity, the United
Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the United Nations
Convention to Control Desertification, and the Stockholm Convention on Persistent
Organic Pollutants (POPs). In addition, the GEF reports that it collaborates closely with
agreements in two other areas: the Montreal Protocol of the Vienna Convention on Ozone
Depleting Substances, and regional and international waters agreements.
U.S. Funding. The United States was a strong supporter of the establishment of
the GEF, and has provided funding throughout the period since it began functioning. The
level of funding provided by the United States has varied widely over the years, largely
in response to overall budget trends. Funding since 1994 is shown below (in millions of
dollars, not adjusted for inflation), according to figures provided by the U.S. Treasury
Department through FY2002, from the FY2008 budget request for FY2003-FY2007, and
from the FY2009 budget request for FY2008-FY2009. (Primary responsibility for GEF
issues in the U.S. government is vested in the Treasury Department, following from its
central role in U.S. participation in the World Bank).
($ in millions)