GEFThis week, I attended my first-ever meeting of the Global Environment Facility (GEF) Council. The GEF is financial mechanism that provides funding for projects related to biodiversity, climate change, international waters, land degradation, the ozone layer, and persistent organic pollutants.

The meeting gives me some hope that the GEF can also provide support for family planning. Here’s why:

The GEF’s Draft 2020 Long-Term Strategy talks about tackling the drivers of the “socio-economic megatrends that are underpinning the pressure on the global environment.” And listed among those drivers are, “population growth, rising middle class, and urbanization.” In other words, population dynamics are at the start of the chain that can lead to environmental pressures. If we want a more sustainable environment, it makes sense to start at the beginning.

Source: Draft GEF Long-Term Strategy

Source: Draft GEF Long-Term Strategy

We know that population changes are driven by three factors: fertility, mortality and migration. The most influential is the total fertility rate, or the average number of children born to each woman. Fertility rates remain high in many parts of the developing world, especially sub-Saharan Africa, making people more vulnerable to the effects of environmental degradation and climate change. High fertility can be addressed by making family planning and reproductive health universally accessible to those who want it. Currently, more than 200 million women in developing countries would like to delay pregnancy but lack modern contraception.

The GEF’s strategy document says it is looking for “new technologies, practices or policies that generate environmental benefits.” Well, family planning is one proven, cost-effective solution that’s right under their noses, whether as a stand-alone program or in the form of integrated population-health-environment (PHE) programming. PHE activities improve the delivery of family planning and reproductive health information and services to underserved communities in areas where population growth threatens biodiversity or endangered species.

How do we get the GEF to pay attention? There’s some evidence that this is already happening. A 2009 evaluation found out that gender and social issues were largely missing from the portfolio of GEF-funded projects. As a result, there was a decision to mainstream gender through the operations of the GEF and its partner agencies, and a new assessment shows this is happening. I have also argued for the expansion of GEF implementing agencies to bring on more organizations with expertise in social issues including reproductive health. Now, two new agencies, WWF-US and Conservation International, have joined the list of implementing and several others are in the accreditation process.

I am not naïve to the challenges of getting a project to be approved for GEF funding. It takes more than strong language in strategy documents to lead to implementation of successful programs. However, when such documents so clearly articulate the population drivers that need to be targeted, family planning advocates need to step up and show how it’s done.