A valuable lesson from past ‘innovative’ or ‘novel’ solutions to human challenges is the later realization that some choices led to unintended harm to the Earth’s system. For instance, chlorofluorocarbons - introduced for use in the manufacture of aerosol sprays, blowing agents, solvents, and as replacements for toxic refrigerants - were later discovered to deplete stratospheric ozone. Similarly, several chemicals intended to improve agriculture and industrial processes, such as dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) and polychlorinated biphenyl (PCBs), were later found to be persistent pollutants that harm the ecosystem and human health. One of the challenges for the GEF is deciding which new technologies offer solutions that can increase global environmental benefits while minimizing potential adverse impacts, how these technologies relate to its mission, in what time frame, and what strategies will capture the most benefits. STAP therefore, commissioned a study to identify new and upcoming technological advances relevant to GEF’s work and to develop an approach for responding to them. These so-called ‘novel entities,’ are defined as “things created and introduced into the environment by human beings that could have positive or negative disruptive effects on the Earth’s system.”
Environmental security: dimensions and priorities
Environmental security underpins the rationale for investment in global environmental benefits, and is essential to maintain the earth's life-supporting ecosystems generating water, food, and clean air. Reducing environmental security risks also depends fundamentally on improving resource governance and social resilience to natural resource shocks and stresses. The environment is better protected in the absence of conflict and in the presence of stable, effective governance. Environmental security is relevant to all of the GEF’s focal areas; therefore, addressing environmental security in an explicit, consistent and integrated manner is essential to delivering global environmental benefits, including the long-term sustainability of project investments. This STAP paper outlines four dimensions of particular salience for the GEF and recommends near-term and long-term actions that can be taken to enhance positive benefits that link the environment and human security, and minimize the negative impacts or risks.
A future food system for healthy human beings and a healthy planet
Food production will need to significantly increase in order to feed the growing global population. However, the current mainly linear food production and consumption model has had significant deleterious effects on the environment, including land degradation, climate change, biodiversity loss, deforestation, chemical pollution, freshwater abstraction, and fresh and marine water pollution. This STAP paper presents solutions that can help improve the sustainability of current agri-food system in both the short and long terms. It highlights the role of a circular economy approach in tackling the problem and concludes with a set of advice to the Global Environment Facility on its possible role in improving the sustainability of current agri-food sector through its programmes and investments.
Plastics and the circular economy
Plastics are one of the world’s greatest industrial innovations, but the sheer scale of their production and poor disposal practices are resulting in growing negative effects on human health and the environment, including on climate change, marine pollution, biodiversity, and chemical contamination, which require urgent action. The circular economy, an alternative to current linear, make, use, dispose, economy model, has been proposed as a solution to plastic pollution challenge. In this paper, the STAP analysed the role of the circular economy in solving the plastic challenge, highlighting some examples of successful circular solutions. The paper, however, emphasised that the circular economy alone will not solve the global plastic problem, and indicated that an all-encompassing solution must seek to reduce demand and produce only essential plastic products. The paper concludes with a set of advice to the Global Environment Facility on its possible role in solving the global plastic pollution problem.
Financing Innovation: Opportunities for the GEF
Ahead of the GEF’s 7th replenishment cycle, the Scientific and Technical Advisory Panel (STAP) of the GEF is interested in exploring ways that innovation contributes to GEF objectives, and the GEF may promote innovation more effectively. This review is also timely insofar as the opportunities and challenges related to innovative approaches have changed dramatically since the GEF’s creation, starting as a pilot in 1991 and formalized by an Instrument in 1994. GEF responsibilities have greatly expanded, many additional agencies have been given access to GEF resources, and much has been learned about what does – and doesn’t work in response to global environmental challenges. Advances in technologies have created opportunities for new solutions. Perhaps most dramatically, the world of global finance has expanded enormously, particularly in the form of private investments and support for new technologies. The deliberations associated with GEF 7 thus call for a fresh look at the role of the GEF in this rapidly evolving financial landscape. This paper looks specifically at how GEF might identify and support innovative approaches for the GEF in relation to technology, business models, and policy, as well as opportunities associated with more creative use of financial instruments, particularly non-grant support.
Managing knowledge for a sustainable future
Knowledge management is the systematic processes, or range of practices, used by organizations to identify, capture, store, create, update, represent, and distribute knowledge for use, awareness and learning across and beyond the organization. To make effective use of the knowledge and learning, the GEF has accumulated from its previous investments, and applying that to its current and future projects, the GEF requires establishing a robust knowledge management system. A knowledge system is integral to the GEF achieving its objectives on maximizing global environmental benefits, and delivering transformational change at scale. This STAP paper outlines the science of knowledge management, why knowledge management is important to the GEF, and recommends how the GEF can strengthen knowledge management in the organization and projects.
Integration: to solve complex environmental problems
Environmental challenges are complex and interlinked, not only in themselves but also with social and economic issues. Better human well-being, for example, poverty reduction, improved human health, energy access and economic growth, are linked to ecological factors. Solutions for one problem can lead to unintended negative consequences, or create new environmental or socio-economic problems. For example, increasing food production in ways that deplete soils, waste water, kill pollinators and increase desertification and deforestation, would eventually prove self-limiting. This STAP paper outlines the science of integration, why integration matters to the GEF, and recommends how to improve integration in the future design of GEF projects.
STAP guidelines for screening GEF projects
The screening guidelines for GEF projects were developed by STAP, and follow the structure of the GEF’s Project Identification Form (PIF). The guidelines answer the question, “what does STAP look for when it screens projects?”, and provide prompts for project proponents to address scientific and technical issues that are important for designing projects. For example, the guidelines assist with the problem analysis, and help develop an impact pathway (theory of change) to achieve the project objective. To help plan for change in the project’s social-ecological system, the guidelines assist with developing intervention options and alternative pathways to deal with the change required (incremental or transformational change) to achieve resilience.
Novel Entities and the GEF
The Global Environment Facility (GEF) needs to be aware of the opportunities and potential benefits that new entities and technologies can offer in delivering global environmental benefits and should be mindful of the potential for new entities to become major global environmental problems. This report presents the findings of a study commissioned by the STAP, and implemented by the Environmental Law Institute, to identify novel entities of relevance to the GEF. For the study, novel entities are broadly defined as “things created and introduced into the environment by human beings that could have positive or negative disruptive effects on the earth system; and may include synthetic organic pollutants, radioactive materials, genetically modified organisms, nanomaterials, micro-plastics”. The study identified seven novel entities that could positively or negatively impact the work of the GEF including technology-critical elements, for example, rare earth elements; next-generation nanotechnology; blockchain technology; gene editing including Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats (CRISPR); cellular agriculture; engineered bio-based materials; and nano-enabled energy. This report presents a description of these novel entities and provides advice to the GEF on possible actions for harnessing the opportunities presented by the novel entities and preventing unintended negative impacts of the entities on the environment.
Soil conservation in the 21st century: why we need smart agricultural intensification
Gerard Govers, Roel Merckx, Bas van Wesemael, and Kristof Van Oost
Soil erosion severely threatens the soil resource and the sustainability of agriculture. After decades of research, this problem still persists, despite the fact that adequate technical solutions now exist for most situations. This begs the question as to why soil conservation is not more rapidly and more generally implemented. Studies show that the implementation of soil conservation measures depends on a multitude of factors but it is also clear that rapid change in agricultural systems only happens when a clear economic incentive is present for the farmer. Conservation measures are often more or less cost-neutral, which explains why they are often less generally adopted than expected. This needs to be accounted for when developing a strategy on how we may achieve effective soil conservation in the Global South, where agriculture will fundamentally change in the next century. In this paper we argue that smart intensification is a necessary component of such a strategy. Smart intensification will not only allow for soil conservation to be made more economical, but will also allow for significant gains to be made in terms of soil organic carbon storage, water efficiency and biodiversity, while at the same time lowering the overall erosion risk. While smart intensification as such will not lead to adequate soil conservation, it will facilitate it and, at the same time, allow for the farmers of the Global South to be offered a more viable future.