Monique Barbut: «We invest in our planet»
UNIDO in Russia (UR): Dear Monique, could you please tell us who created the GEF?
Monique Barbut (MB): That was actually long before I joined the GEF as the CEO and Chairperson. let me give you a short lecture in the history of the GEF: The Global Environment Facility was established in October 1991 as a $1 billion pilot program in the World Bank to assist in the protection of the global environment and to promote environmental sustainable development. The GEF was designed to provide new and additional grants and concessional funding to cover the so called „incremental“ or additional costs associated with transforming a project with national benefits into one with global environmental benefits.
The United Nations Development programme, the United Nations Environment program, and the World Bank were the three initial partners implementing GEF projects.
In 1994, at the Rio Earth Summit, the GEF was restructured and formally moved out of the World Bank system to become a permanent, independently operating institution. The decision to make the GEF an independent organization enhanced the involvement of developing countries in the decision-making process and in implementation of the projects. Since 1994, however, the World Bank has served as the Trustee of the GEF Trust Fund and provided administrative services.
As part of the restructuring, the GEF was entrusted to become the financial mechanism for the UN Convention on Biological Diversity and a financial mechanism of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. In partnership with the Montreal protocol of the Vienna Convention on Ozone layer Depleting Substances, the GEF started funding projects that enable the Russian Federation and nations in Eastern Europe and Central asia to phase out their use of ozone-destroying chemicals.
The GEF subsequently was also selected to serve as financial mechanism for two more international conventions: the Stockholm Convention on persistent Organic pollutants in 2001 and the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification in 2003.
UR: Who finances its work?
MB: It’s the international community. The GEF is a trust fund that has been replenished 5 times since its inception in 1991. In April last year, 34 donor countries — including Russia with a contribution of $10 million — approved the fifth replenishment of $4.3 billion, a 52% increase vis-à-vis the level of the fourth replenishment.
UR: How is GEF structured?
MB: The GEF assembly is the governing body of the GEF, in which representatives of all member countries participate. It meets every three to four years, and is responsible for reviewing and evaluating the GEF’s general policies, the operations of the GEF, and its membership. Ministers and high-level government delegations of all 182 GEF member countries take part in the meetings.
The GEF assembly selects a subset of its members to serve on the GEF Council. The GEF Council functions as an independent board of directors, with primary responsibility for developing, adopting, and evaluating GEF programs. Council members representing 32 constituencies (16 from developing countries, 14 from developed countries, and two from countries with transitional economies) meet twice each year for three days and also conduct business by mail. all decisions are by consensus. The Council’s open door policy toward non-governmental organizations and representatives of civil society makes it unique among international financial institutions.
I am heading the GEF Secretariat which is based in Washington, D.C., and which reports directly to the GEF Council and assembly, ensuring that their decisions are translated into effective actions. The secretariat coordinates the formulation of projects included in the work programs, oversees its implementation, and makes certain that operational strategy and policies are followed.
GEF projects are implemented by the following 10 agencies: United Nations Development programme, United Nations Environment programme, the World Bank, Food and agriculture Organization, Inter-American Development Bank, United Nations Industrial Development Organization, Asian Development Bank, African Development Bank, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, International Fund for agricultural Development. an independent GEF Evaluation Office (www. http://www.thegef.org/ gef/eo_office) is also located in Washington, D.C., and reports directly to the GEF Council. Its goal is to improve accountability of GEF projects and programs and to promote learning, feedback, and knowledge sharing. The Office has responsibilities in three main areas: 1. Evaluation — independently evaluating the effectiveness of GEF projects and programs 2. Norms — establishing monitoring and evaluation standards 3. Oversight — providing quality control for monitoring and evaluation by Implementing and Executing agencies of GEF projects and programs.
UR: Who are GEF’s main partners?
MB: The GEF is one big partnership itself, being an independently operating institution that unites 182 member governments in partnership with international institutions, nongovernmental organizations, and the private sector. Even though we work mainly through the 10 implementing agencies mentioned above, we do have a lot of direct interactions with the member countries themselves as well.
UR: What is the main focus of GEF today? Could you tell our readers about the main focus of your work.
MB: As our tagline says — we are investing in our planet. That means that as the largest public funder of environmental projects worldwide we are covering a wide range of topics. We are working in six focal areas, in Biodiversity, Climate Change, International Waters, land Degradation, Ozone layer depletion and persistent Organic pollutants. I would not want to single out any of them at the disadvantage of another, however it is true that topics such as Climate Change and Biodiversity for example have gained significant priority over the last couple of years, whereas the Ozone layer portfolio on the other hand has not grown symmetrically
UR: How do you decide on whether to fund this or that project? Who usually initiates projects?
MB: One of our main underlying principles of operation is country ownership. Countries themselves initiate projects, not us, nor any of the implementing agencies. Being an independently operating financial organization, the GEF provides grants to developing and emerging countries for projects related to biodiversity, climate change, international waters, land degradation, the ozone layer, and persistent organic pollutants. These projects benefit the global environment, linking local, national, and global environmental challenges and promoting sustainable livelihoods. The GEF is mainstreaming approaches so they are in line with the agreed environmental conventions of the United Nations. The proposals coming from the countries via these agencies are then scrutinized by our staff in the GEF secretariat in Washington, DC, and checked against the countries’ own national priority programs as well as against the policies outlined in the respective UN conventions to which they relate.
As I mentioned before, the GEF receives its funding from 35 international donors who in April 2010 have agreed to provide $4.3 billion for the 5th replenishment cycle of the GEF from 2010-2014. These funds will be invested by the GEF in the six focal areas. In each of these focal areas there are hundreds of different ways to finance remedies to environmental ills, ranging from projects to support sustainable urban transportation in Kathmandu, introducing energy efficient light bulbs in Morocco, or even to undertake emergency evacuations of endangered Koala bears from the earthquake affected areas in China. It takes a synergistic approach between environmental sectors to multiply positive impact which the GEF has been following throughout its history. Thanks to this approach, if the GEF invests one dollar in the protection of the biodiversity of mangroves, the same dollar is simultaneously invested in the carbon retention capacity of mangroves. Thus, with one dollar we create at least a two dollar intervention. We also rely on a large group of experts and scientists to design the GEF strategies (i.e. STAP, the Scientific and Technical advisory panel — see: http://www.thegef.org/gef/STAP), as well receive guidance from UN conventions to help countries to prioritize their interventions in order to be as effective as possible.
UR: What is GEF’s agenda/strategy for the 21st century?
MB: We did lay out our strategy for the next four years for which we secured funding with the fifth replenishment process. There are six strategic elements identified in the GEF way forward. While reflecting the various strengths that the GEF has developed, they also point towards areas where the GEF needs to enhance its involvement:
(a) Continuing as a key operating entity of the financial mechanism of the major global environmental conventions by providing assistance to a large number of countries through a comprehensive approach employing investment, technical assistance and scientific assessment, and by embodying an integrated approach that links different conventions and focal areas;
(b) Functioning as the coordinator and/or manager of several funds, building on the track record of managing funds entrusted to the GEF by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC);
® pioneering combinations of grant and non-grant instruments to support investments of a transformative scale;
(d) Maintaining focus on innovation, catalyzing supporting cutting-edge technologies and policy reforms with the objective of enabling replication and scaling-up;
(e) Enhancing engagement with the private sector, building upon advances made in GEF-4 through the Earth Fund; and
(f) Refining focal area strategies to reflect the emerging scientific and policy understandings.
UR: You have the opportunity to study and compare the ecological problems of different countries. What are the common matters and the specific aspects countries have? Can you name countries that could serve as role models, and why?
MB: The nature of environmental challenges is global, such that there is no country on this planet which is not affected by a changing climate for example. Our response to these changes helps countries to either mitigate these changes or adapt to it. The GEF provides funding for incremental costs of environmental projects to achieve global environmental benefits. These projects are based on national priorities that are formulated by the countries themselves and therefore may differ significantly from each other. However, as they are in line with the objectives and approaches of the UN conventions, there is a certain common agreement as to what needs to be done and how.
Countries are dealing with their environmental challenges the best they can. Some are more successful, and others still need to step up their efforts considerably in order to cope with the scope. I would prefer not to single out one country, but I can give you a couple of examples where our cooperation with UNIDO was particularly effective.
UR: What in your view is the ecological situation in Russia in comparison to other countries?
MB: Russia harbors vast expanse of undisturbed ecosystems and is very rich in freshwater resources. The country is a repository of globally significant biodiversity hosting 14 Global 200 Eco-regions, eight in their entirety. It has more forests than any other single country on the planet — in total 22% of the world’s entire forest cover is located in the Russian Federation, covering an area larger than the entire continental United States. Low population density in the Russian Siberia and Far East secures large territories of intact nature which are important global depositories of biodiversity and carbon sinks.
Such natural wealth at times results in underestimation of environmental risks both among the society and at the policy level and consequently in insufficient pace of economic and technological modernization.
Commodity-driven type of economy dependent of energy and resource intensive industries is the major threat to the health of Russia’s environment and biodiversity. This is reflected in Russia’s adjusted Net Savings index that falls far below the world and European average. Russia remains one of the world’s most energy-intensive economies with its exports dominated by oil and gas and other raw materials. Inadequate enforcement of ecological standards and mixed performance of businesses reliant on resource extraction contribute to the problem. This situation has been recognized by the Russian Government and a strong course towards modernization throughout economic sectors has been announced. There are no easy or trivial solutions on this path of modernization. GEF has been assisting Russia in many arrays including policy building, green standards, energy efficiency, work with extractive industries and promotion of low carbon technologies.
Russia’s environmental policies and environment management systems has been undergoing major and continuous reform for the past two decades. These reforms are still ongoing being influenced by complex processes linked to economic transition, administrative restructuring, global financial crisis and development agendas.
Russian forest management planning and protected areas system dates back to the 18th century with a very strong tradition for strict protection regimes (“zapovedniki”) and relatively good protected areas coverage. At the same time, most recent Russian policy trends tend towards modernization of the protected areas system through integration into broader socio-economic context and community inclusion. This is an important area where international experience and tools could be effectively utilized securing a balance of development benefits and conservation. One example of the GEF’s work in Russia is our project in the Komi republic — World Natural Heritage Site — addressing financial sustainability and efficiency of protected areas system.
Russia’s role in global climate change agenda can’t be overestimated. The country is the world’s forth-largest emitter of greenhouse gases (GHG), after China, the US and India, and its per capita emissions are higher than Japan, Germany, or the UK. Having ratified the Kyoto protocol in 2004, the country provided the crucial share of total global emissions (17.%) that were needed to push the agreement into force. On the other hand, with approximately 825 million hectares of forests and about 370 million hectares of peat lands Russia’s ecosystems accounts for the largest national contribution to the world’s natural carbon store.
Russia’s position on climate change issues have emerged over the past two years from being ambivalent to a constructive and supportive to the global agenda with clear national priority setting. Although Russia remained conservative towards available carbon finance options, it has been meeting its Kyoto targets. Russia’s action on CC mitigation is demonstrated through a set of new strong national energy efficiency policies and legislation adopted in 2009-2010: a Climate Doctrine, a new Federal law on energy efficiency, a new Energy Strategy and others. This policy development process resulted in setting up ambitious energy efficiency targets: 40% reduction of the energy intensity of the GDP and increased share of renewable energies in the national energy balance by 2020. President Medvedev reconfirmed Russia’s intention to work on energy efficiency and climate change mitigation even in the absence of an international post-Kyoto agreement. In 2000-2008 energy intensity of the Russian GDP has been reduced at 5% annually, which is greater than in many other countries. GEF has been responding to these policy targets with a comprehensive programming portfolio of energy efficiency projects in buildings, industries and appliances.
Adaptation to climate change became the key focus of the Russian Climate Doctrine adopted in 2009. Russia’s geographic expanse and diverse climatic conditions throughout its 83 provinces calls for locally tailored climate monitoring, vulnerability assessments and adaptation response. Clearly, Russian arctic is a priority region for climate studies and early adaptation response. Unlike other arctic states, Russian arctic regions harbor large industrial centres and relatively large population. Therefore, arctic development strategies and adaptation programmes need to encompass measures to secure vulnerable ecosystems and to ensure human security. Mountain regions in the Caucasus and Altay-Sayan and steppe ecosystems in the Southern Russia are also important focus for the climate change adaptation work.
UR: Could you kindly tell us about the main projects GEF currently has in Russia?
MB: Over the past 19 years, throughout the pilot phase and four replenishment phases GEF-1 to GEF4, the GEF has provided $351.9 million for projects in the country, and regional and global projects that have involved the Russian Federation. This funding has leveraged almost $1.5 billion in co-financing. The direct country support amounts to $247 million, having leveraged $919 million in co-financing.
The largest funding support was provided in the Climate Change Focal area, with $93 million, followed by Biodiversity Focal area with $86 million, Chemicals Focal area with $76 million, and International Waters with $71 million. The remainder of $26 million went into Multifocal area projects, creating multiple environmental benefits.
UR: You participated in the International Tiger Conservation Forum in St.Petersburg in November of last year. Please tell our readers about your impressions. Will GEF support the Tiger conservation programme?
MB: The GEF has been a pioneer partner with the World Bank and others in the development of the Global Tiger Recovery program (GTRP). At the GEF, we are ready to move with the World Bank attending to the priorities of the 13 Tiger Range Countries. A certain number of them have come forward with commitments to program some $35 million of their GEF country allocations for action on behalf of the tiger. If these projects make sense, the GEF will be ready to support them. If these investments are designed to produce benefits for biodiversity beyond the tiger and also result in the reduction of emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, the GEF could provide countries with an additional $12 million from our REDD+ incentive mechanism, as well some support to a needed coordination mechanism at the regional level.
Therefore, we could be approaching close to $50 million in potential GEF grant resources for this initiative, provided that the appropriate co-financing leverage is secured. We believe that such a significant commitment by the GEF is definitely bound to attract the necessary resources from other donors and from the countries themselves. However, this more ambitious scenario requires that a suitable governance structure among donors, tiger range countries and other significant players is agreed on.
Specifically, one that is conducive toward directing resources strategically to countries. We firmly believe that such a structure is essential. Otherwise, as we have seen in other cases recently, the fragmentation of resource delivery will work against the objectives of the program and will make it difficult for countries to access what they need.
This is a natural progression from the early investments we have made in the development of the GTRP and supporting the Tiger Summit in St. Petersburg. As it has been the case from the beginning, our implementing partner for this initiative will be the World Bank, but we also expect national executing entities as well as qualifying NGOs to make significant contributions to this effort, including through additional financial resources.
UR: You also had a working lunch with Prime Minister Putin. What topics did you discuss?
MB: We had indeed a very nice meeting in a friendly atmosphere where we focused specifically on the Global Tiger Recovery program and on the GEF program in Russia more generally. We also had a series of discussions with further representatives of the Russian Government to look at past achievements and future opportunities in our joint work for the environment in the Russian Federation.
UR: What projects is GEF planning to implement in Russia in the near future?
MB: Currently there are 15 projects ($103.4 million in GEF grants and $541 million in co-financing) approved by the GEF Council in various stages of final design and preparation for implementation for coming months. Out of them 9 projects ($82.9 million in GEF grants and $453.2 million in co-financing) are actually ready for the start now. One of the key GEF investment in climate change focal area (CC Focal area) is the „Energy Efficiency in the Russian Federation programme“, which would facilitate market transformation towards more a more energy efficient economy through the promotion of efficient technologies and practices in key sectors. Various projects of the programme, implemented by UNDP, EBRD and UNIDO will improve energy efficiency in industry, buildings, and lighting through regulatory support, investment, and capacity development at the federal, regional, and local levels. This umbrella program will cover the entire spectrum of the building sector, including the building envelope, the energy-consuming systems and appliances used in buildings for heating, cooling, lighting, including appliances, as well as building operation and energy consumption during building operation. In industry, the project will promote the deployment and diffusion of energy-efficient technologies and practices in industrial production and manufacturing processes, focusing on GHG-intensive industries.
In the biodiversity focal area the project “Mainstreaming Biodiversity Conservation into Russia’s Energy Sector policies and Operations” will, in long-term, help the energy sector operations in Russia to have improved capacity to minimize their adverse impacts on biodiversity so that the conservation prospects of the affected ecosystems are greatly improved. The immediate project outcome will be to assist RF to mainstream biodiversity conservation priorities into Russian energy sector development policies and into the operations of energy production sectors through pilot activities in 6 demonstration areas of the country.
Another example of a project, combining GEF resources from two Focal areas (BD and IW), is the “Integrated Natural Resource Management in the Baikal Basin Transboundary Ecosystem project”, aiming at integrated natural resource management of lake Baikal Basin ensuring ecosystem resilience, reduced water quality threats in the context of sustainable economic development.
One of the first GEF 5 projects in Russia, to be considered by the GEF Council for funding is the “Russia Energy Efficiency Financing (REEF) project”. Russia possesses a huge untapped energy resource — energy efficiency (EE). a 2008 World Bank Study (World Bank/IFC. “Energy Efficiency in Russia: Untapped Reserves.” December 2008. World Bank) found that Russia could reduce its total energy consumption by 45% or in absolute terms — by 294 million tonnes of oil equivalent, which will translate into CO2 emission reduction of 793 million tonnes per year. achieving Russia’s full EE potential could cost a total of $320 billion to the economy, but would result in annual cost savings to investors and end users of about $80 billion. By realizing its EE potential Russia can save 240 billion m³ of natural gas; 340 billion kWh of electricity; 89 million tons of coal; and 43 million tons of crude oil and crude oil equivalents in the form of refined petroleum products. The project would aim at greenhouse gases reduction through the removal of barriers related to energy efficiency investments in the industrial and municipal sectors.
UR: Monique, you head a major international organization, devoting all your time and energy, but manage to remain a very elegant woman. How do you manage this? Is it hard for a woman to be a CEO?
MB: The way I dress is my way also to show that I am a woman and a CEO simultaneously. There is a difference between a man and a woman so that should be acknowledged. I haven’t given up being a woman just because I had ambitions.
And you are asking if it is hard for a woman to be a CEO? Well, if you see that only 15 of the 500 largest companies in the world are managed by women you might think that it is more difficult for a woman to become a CEO than for a man and run a large organization successfully. However as a woman when you have to be a wife, a mother, a friend, a cook, maybe even a gardener and a successful CEO all within the same 24 hours you start believing that nothing is impossible. I also apply this philosophy to my work. If you believe in the cause you are fighting for nothing can stop you.
UR: You are an effective manager. What makes a good manager?
MB: Regardless of the gender of the CEO there are a number of qualities and skills that make a CEO a good manager. You have to have a vision and be able to sell it, you have not to be afraid to reinvent the rules; you have to focus closely on achievements; show courage under fire; and turn challenges into opportunities. But my greatest strength is my staff. I believe the smartest decision a CEO can make is to hire a strong and competent management team, and to trust and empower them.
UR: …and what human touch or principals should a CEO have?
MB: The same as everybody else should have: a respectful way of treating others, at work as well as in their private lives. On top of that as a CEO you have also the responsibility to ensure that your organization doesn’t run on pure business interactions only, by opening up space for the human touch to flourish, to inspire and motivate excellent overall performance.
UR: Would you like to wish something to the readers of our Magazine?
MB: You see, to care for the protection of the environment to keep it in a way that our future generations can sustain a healthy life on earth as well needs more than the GEF. It needs each and every one of us to believe in the possibility of a sustainable development of our civilization and working towards it at the personal level. Hence, I wish that this message will be heard by the readers of this magazine and spread much further eventually.
UR: We are grateful for taking the time to do this interview.
UNIDO in Russia Magazine Interview with GEF CEO Monique Barbut