World gathers to tackle climate change challenges


World leaders and officials from over 100 nations, including India, top heads of UN agencies and multilateral financial institutions, scientists and activists gathered in this Vietnamese city on Sunday for the Global Environment Facility’s (GEF) Assembly to tackle global climate change challenges.

One of the most significant global gatherings of the year on the environment, the assembly, which will see high-level plenary sessions June 27-28, follows a record $4.1 billion replenishment by governments of the GEF’s trust fund and is testament to its growing influence in bringing about sustainable development around the world.

India, among the world’s most vulnerable countries to climate change, is both a donor and a recipient of GEF, an international partnership of 183 countries.

GEF CEO and Chairperson Naoko Ishii called the assembly, held every four years, “a unique opportunity to help make a safer, more secure and more liveable planet”.

“Business as usual will guarantee disaster; incremental change will not suffice. The only solution is transformational change. We need to transform food, urban and energy systems and move to a circular economy.

“We need to act swiftly and at scale — and that’s just what the GEF intends to do,” she said in a statement.

The plenary sessions, to be opened by Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc address on June 27, will cover the state of the global environment, the ambition needed to help transform the systems that support how we live, how we eat, how we move and how we produce and consume, and how the implementation of GEF-7 (the new four-year investment cycle) can contribute to the necessary systems change.

Heads of island nations vulnerable to rising sea levels caused by melting ice, like the Marshall Islands President Hilda Heine and Guyana President David Granger, will speak at plenary sessions as will former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet and former Costa Rican President Jose Maria Figueres.

Nearly 30 countries last month jointly pledged $4.1 billion to the GEF for its GEF-7 to better protect the future of the planet and human well-being.

India is among the largest recipients of climate change assistance.

GEF supports the World Bank and the United Nations Development Programme to undertake capacity-building in a wide range of areas in India, including climate change adaptation, sustainable land and ecosystem management, biodiversity conservation and rural livelihoods.

India is one the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases after the US and China.

According to the UN Environment, with a population of 1.3 billion, growing at 1.2 per cent per year, India is a heavy hitter in the world of global emissions.

The energy sector accounts for some 71 per cent of India’s emissions, a fact the government is committed to changing through an aggressive roll out of energy efficiency programmes, including a plan to be the world’s first country to use light-emitting diodes, or LEDs, for all its lighting needs.

The UN Environment and partners are backing India’s green ambitions through Creating and Sustaining Markets for Energy Efficiency, a GEF-supported project to boost the uptake of efficient lighting and other technologies.

Last November, the GEF announced $454 million funding to boost India’s efforts for energy-efficiency projects run by state-owned Energy Efficiency Services Ltd (EESL).

The GEF also supports the Indian government to create sustainable cities.

Bhopal city in Madhya Pradesh is an example where the GEF, together with the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation, invested in cleaning up and removing a 40-year-old toxic dumpsite, and with the World Bank, providing es solutions for sustainable transport.

“Countries like India, China and Brazil have hundreds of cities. If the knowledge of this global partnership can be adapted, disseminated and used by national and local governments, then a lot of influence will move from 20 cities to hundred of cities in the world,” World Bank Group Senior Director Ede Jorge said in a video message.

GEF’s Sustainable Cities Programme is investing $151.6 million in grants and $2.4 billion in co-financing over five years, initially engaging 28 cities in 11 developing countries.

Apart from three high-level plenary sessions in the GEF Assembly, there will be roundtable discussions, among others, on food, land use and restoration, sustainable cities, the blue economy, partnerships for implementing the 2030 agenda, marine plastics and sustainable landscapes in the Amazon and Congo basins.

The assembly will also see the participation of business leaders such as Unilever CEO Paul Polman and Olam International Co-Founder and Group CEO Sunny Verghese.

Among the participants are Johan RockstrAm, Executive Director, Stockholm Resilience Centre; Andrew Steer, President and CEO, World Resources Intitute; Shenggen Fan, Director General, International Food Policy Research Institute; Rosa Lemos de SAi, CEO, Funbio; and Carter Roberts, President, WWF-US.

GEF, established on the eve of the 1992 Rio Earth Summit to help tackle planet’s most pressing environmental problems, has provided $17.9 billion in grants and mobilised an additional $93.2 billion in financing for more than 4,500 projects in 170 countries.