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.”
Reports and Publications
Sustainable Land Management for Environmental Benefits and Food Security: A synthesis report for the GEF
This report examines sustainable land management (SLM) and its potential as an integrative strategy to address multiple environmental and sustainable development objectives. It highlights the linkages between SLM and soil health, land degradation, food security, climate changes mitigation and adaptation. The report is intended to provide information and guidance on fostering SLM, to a wide range of stakeholders involved in agriculture, environmental management and sustainable development. It aims to support investment in SLM by the GEF, particularly investments in pursuit of Land Degradation Neutrality. This report:
- explores the anthropogenic and natural drivers of land degradation, and the potential environmental and socioeconomic benefits of SLM;
- examines the role of SLM in addressing the critical challenge of global food security
- describes the key processes of land degradation and their impacts, as the basis for developing good practice guidance on SLM that is scientifically sound and robust;
- proposes principles for SLM that promote soil health, productivity and ecosystem services;
- presents a framework for identifying SLM practices suited to the context and objectives;
- provides guidance on identifying indicators for evaluation of a site in terms of land potential and soil condition, and indicators for monitoring outcomes of SLM investments;
- discusses the barriers to adoption of good practice for SLM; and
- provides recommendations for developing and implementing SLM programs in ways that optimise global environmental benefits.
Recommendations are provided to guide GEF investment in support of SLM, and planning of SLM programs.
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.
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.
Principles for the Development of Integrated Transformational Projects in Climate Change and Chemicals & Waste
Drawing on 32 case studies from the fields of Climate Change (CC), Chemicals & Waste (Ch&W), and Ozone Depleting Substances (ODS), the paper demonstrates how system thinking can enhance outcomes and lead to wider adoption of new technologies, changes and behaviours that protect and restore the environment. The paper offers guidance for the GEF on how to develop integrated projects and programs, based on a review of the literature on systems thinking and similar disciplines, drawing from examples [of GEF projects] demonstrating lessons on integrated programming in support of sustainable development and delivering multiple benefits.
In this paper, integrated approaches are seen as instruments that can bring about changes in the multiple domains necessary to achieve the desired long-term transformation. Thus "integrated projects or programs" are understood to consider causes across the environment and different realms of human activity, and to generate benefits in two or more GEF focal areas, as well as social and economic benefits. Given the multiple factors, interconnections involved and complexity of CC, and the processes related to Ch&W, the central conclusion of this review is that systems thinking can be used to derive key principles to guide the development and implementation of integrated projects that contribute to transformation at scale for both CC and Ch&W.