The Limits and Promise of Environmental Conflict Prevention: The Case of the GEF

Journal article

Payne, Rodger A. (1998) The Limits and Promise of Environmental Conflict Prevention: The Case of the GEF, Journal of Peace Research 35 (3): 363–380.

Sustainable development practices should be embraced not only to forestall environmental destruction and resource exhaustion, but also to prevent conflicts apparently triggered by these causes. Unfortunately, environmentally-caused conflicts are perhaps most likely to erupt in the world's poorest states, which are least capable of pursuing sustainable development without substantial external aid. The global assistance burden is felt primarily by multilateral developments agencies, such as the World Bank, which distributes more than USD 20 billion annually. Interestingly, the Bank acts as Trustee for the sizable Global Environment Facility (GEF) which was specifically designed to add environmental dimensions to projects funded for more general development purposes. Ironically, before the GEF was created, the World Bank was long criticized for funding unsustainable development, for ignoring its own environmental standards, for making decisions without the input of affected parties or nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and for withholding vital project information from potential critics, such as transnational environmental groups. While the danger of financing unsustainable projects and overlooking environmental standards is obvious, denying access to decision-making and program information also undermines environmental progress. In short, sustainable development depends upon the free flow of information and multiple inputs into decision-making. This article explores whether the GEF can be expected to identify and fund significant environmental projects in conflict-prone regions. It also examines the politics of GEF decision-making, with an emphasis on transparency, accountability, and participation.

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