The Global Environment Facility (GEF)

About GEF

The Global Environment Facility (GEF) is an independent financial organization that helps developing countries fund programmes and projects to protect the global environment. GEF provides grants for projects related to biodiversity, climate change, international waters, land degradation, the ozone layer and persistent organic pollutants. GEF grants also help developing countries promote sustainable livelihoods in local communities. Since it was established in 1991, GEF has provided US$6.2 billion in grants and has generated more than US$20 billion in cofinancing from other sources to support over 1,800 projects that produce global environmental benefits in 140 developing countries and countries with economies in transition.

"The most important partnership, and finally the only one that will matter, is with the poor themselves. They have the skills and the knowledge, and certainly the will to improve their lives. What they lack is the opportunity. Our task is to create the enabling environment and opportunity for them to live in harmony with the natural resource base on which their lives depend."  - Lennart Båge, 2003.

A strategic partnership

IFAD and the GEF are working together to fight both rural poverty and environmental degradation. They share a common understanding that it is difficult to achieve improvement in the global environment without sustainable management of natural resources and enhancement of the livelihoods of rural poor people.

IFAD, an executing agency of the GEF, established an IFAD-GEF Unit in 2004 to play a catalytic role in addressing the links between poverty and global environmental degradation. The unit designs impact-oriented, high-quality programmes and projects that complement and diversify IFAD's investments at country and regional levels. At the same time, it helps develop innovative new partnerships to fight rural poverty and environmental degradation.

The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment — a comprehensive study of the state of the world's ecosystems — identifies the vulnerability of the 2 billion people living in drylands around the world as one of the most critical problems affecting ecosystems today. Their vulnerability is related to damage to ecosystems, which reduces water availability, threatens forests and farm yields, and increases the menace of climate change and agrochemical pollution.

Globally, an estimated US$42.0 billion in income is lost each year in areas immediately affected by desertification. The indirect economic and social costs may be much greater, affecting areas beyond those immediately involved. The indirect costs include those associated with the flow of environmental refugees and the loss of national food production.

As the only United Nations agency dedicated exclusively to fighting rural poverty, IFAD brings to this partnership its extensive experience in sustainable rural development and integrated environmental management, as well as its strengths in identifying synergies and addressing cross-cutting environmental issues.

The IFAD-GEF partnership facilitates interventions that capitalize on linkages between GEF strategic priorities and IFAD programmes and projects, to make them mutually reinforcing and to ensure maximum financial and ecological sustainability.

By reaching the poorest people living in the most vulnerable ecosystems, the IFAD-GEF partnership contributes to the global efforts that are bridging the gap between local development and the global environment.

Associating IFAD's lending instruments with GEF grants widens the spectrum of interventions of both organizations and strengthens the development of programmes and projects in marginal lands and degraded ecosystems, and in post-conflict situations.

Comparative advantages

Growing commitment

Achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) is central to the IFAD-GEF partnership. By addressing the environmental implications of poverty reduction, the partnership works to achieve MDG1 (eradicate extreme poverty and hunger), MDG3 (promote gender equity and empower women) and MDG7 (ensure environmental sustainability).

IFAD's experience in people-oriented participatory approaches is a strong comparative advantage in addressing sustainable environmental management issues and combating desertification. The organization's extensive experience operating in drylands constitutes a valuable source of knowledge for charting future directions in poverty reduction, sustainable land management and environmental conservation. 

IFAD's wide range of operations in remote rural settings and in diverse agroecological and socio-economic contexts provides an opportunity to further expand synergies among GEF focal areas such as biodiversity, climate change and international waters.

The multiplier effect

IFAD's flexible programme approach and long-term lending framework, together with its ability to secure high cofinancing ratios, enable it to play a crucial role as a GEF executing agency. Catalytic investments mobilize greater resource flows, leading to a considerable multiplier effect for both IFAD and GEF investments. All IFAD-GEF initiatives feature a high level of cofinancing. For each dollar provided by the GEF, so far IFAD has mobilized an average of US$5.26. At present GEF funding of about US$36.0 million has leveraged cofinancing of approximately US$191.0 million.


IFAD brings added value to the GEF family through its diversified and innovative alliances with development partners, including NGOs, civil society and international organizations. By focusing its development work on farmers' associations and other organizations maintained by poor people themselves, IFAD supports partnerships at the grass-roots community level.  These partnerships are essential for translating local efforts into global environmental benefits, seizing new opportunities for accessing innovative financing mechanisms in support of the rural poor and ensuring sustainability.

Partners include such organizations as the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries Fund for International Development, the Islamic Development Bank, the Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development, and the West African Development Bank.


IFAD nurtures innovation by and for rural poor people by facilitating the emergence of local know-how and promoting the transfer of new technology and techniques that are adapted to local conditions.

High fiduciary standards 

As a guarantee of transparency and data accuracy, IFAD maintains the highest fiduciary standards, in line with international best practices. It is one of the few United Nations agencies that comply fully with International Financial Reporting Standards, and it is subject both to an annual external audit and to ad hoc internal audit investigations. In addition, IFAD uses a commitment control system that limits use of funds to the allocated budget.

IFAD expertise of relevance to GEF focal areas

Land degradation

  • integrated watershed and ecosystem management
  • combating desertification and land degradation
  • soil fertility and improved land productivity
  • policy dialogue and access to productive assets and technology
  • sustainable management of rangelands and silvo-pastoral resources
  • forests and agricultural land management
  • capacity-building and mainstreaming of sustainable land management practices


  • integrated ecosystem management and community-based natural resource management
  • agrobiodiversity
  • sustainable management of national parks and adjacent buffer zones
  • sustainable rangeland management
  • promotion of local best practices and traditional know-how
  • agroforestry and conservation of forest biodiversity

Climate change

  • payment for environmental services
  • bio-carbon fund
  • bio-energy
  • renewable energy in rural areas
  • climate change mitigation and carbon sequestration through sustainable land management

International waters

  • integrated watershed management
  • integrated water resources conservation
  • harvesting and aquifers conservation, particularly in arid lands

The way forward

Harmonization and aid effectiveness

Our future calls for greater reinforcement and harmonization of development efforts by the international community, leading to stronger national ownership and policy dialogue.

In the spirit of the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness, IFAD will continue to help improve national strategies aiming at rural poverty reduction. IFAD operations and processes will be upgraded within the framework of a more systematic external peer review system already piloted in IFAD's rural finance operations. 


The partnership between IFAD and the GEF enables countries to strengthen the mainstreaming of international instruments relating to the Rio Conventions.

IFAD's diverse portfolio and experience, together with the GEF commitment to the Rio Conventions' guiding principles, will lead to the adoption of system-wide policy and institutional change and to the removal of existing barriers.

The IFAD-GEF partnership is progressively broadening the corporate strategies of both organizations by bringing together poverty reduction and sustainable natural resource management as key items on the same agenda.

Strategic opportunities

IFAD's operations are driven by the country strategic opportunities paper (COSOP), a guiding instrument that identifies the choices and opportunities through which IFAD investments can ensure a positive impact on poverty. The COSOP is the core instrument for designing and managing country programmes and has proven to be effective in identifying impact-oriented IFAD/GEF investment opportunities.        

Evolving under its own performance-based allocation system, IFAD is well placed to ensure optimum resource allocation predictability and harmonization with the GEF's resource allocation framework.

Thanks to its flexible lending and non-lending instruments, IFAD can tailor its approach to a country's needs to respond more effectively to global environmental protection requirements while being consistent with consultative decision-making processes.  

Result-based portfolio

The IFAD-GEF partnership is committed to enhancing the overall impact of its portfolio of programmes and projects by building on a newly strengthened quality assurance system. By drawing on the experience of other international financial institutions, this quality assurance system will capitalize on IFAD's strong technical capacities while mobilizing external complementary expertise.

IFAD ensures high-quality project implementation by:

  • designing high-achieving programmes and projects directed at delivering global environmental benefits as well as significant gains for rural poor people, particularly the poorest of the poor
  • articulating a stronger role for partnerships, policy dialogue and community empowerment based on community-driven approaches and advocacy for rural poor people
  • streamlining project cycle processes, with improvements in staff accountability and performance, and in self-evaluation and quality assurance systems
  • mainstreaming the links between poverty reduction and sustainable environmental management as part of the concerted global effort to achieve the Millennium Development Goals

Source: IFAD