7th GEF Assembly (Vancouver, Canada) - 22 August

In a series of panel discussions leading up to the 7th Global Environment Facility Assembly, the Youth Leaders Learning Exchange and the Indigenous and Local Knowledge events brought together youth activists and local and indigenous leaders to call for greater engagement and recognition of these groups in the face of the triple planetary crisis the Earth is currently experiencing.
"The crisis is here, just look out the window at the haze from the forest fires" - Carlos Manuel Rodríguez, CEO of the GEF

“...the three crises, in climate change, loss of biodiversity, and pollution, are with us now, and the trends are still negative. We cannot reverse them with what we’ve been doing so everything is on the table here.” - Carlos Manuel Rodríguez, CEO of the GEF
L-R: David Cooper, Acting Executive Secretary, CBD Secretariat; Carlos Manuel Rodríguez, GEF Chairperson - (GEF/IISD)
L-R: David Cooper, Acting Executive Secretary, CBD Secretariat; Carlos Manuel Rodríguez, GEF Chairperson - (GEF/IISD)

During the Youth Leaders Learning Exchange, Carlos Manuel Rodríguez emphasised that “we have failed” the world because the Assembly is taking place in the midst of environmental catastrophes that the GEF was designed to avert. He urged stakeholders to reconsider how the GEF operates, realising the necessity of whole-of-government and whole-of-society methods, debating what each meant, and incorporating that comprehension into the upcoming GEF replenishment.
René van Hell, Representative of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs – Netherlands, offered a strong endorsement for Rodríguez's endeavours. He conveyed his nation's support for the comprehensive engagement of all sectors of society and government, focusing on water as a catalyst for the essential transformative changes required to address various challenges.
“This is the moment for Canada to follow through on the leadership it showed during COP15 and set the bar for what it will take to turn biodiversity pledges into reality: finance, accountability, Indigenous sovereignty, and international cooperation,” - Pratishtha Singh, Senior International Policy Analyst at Climate Action Network Canada
Rosina Bierbaum, the Chair of GEF STAP, emphasized the necessity for GEF projects to explicitly incorporate considerations for changes in behaviour, strive for policy coherence, engage communities in decision-making processes, and integrate systems thinking. Stating that more than half of the world’s GDP is dependent on nature and ecosystem services. Rashid Sumaila of the University of British Columbia underscored that the health of the ocean and environment cannot be entangled from the health of people.
"We are fighting a visible war on the effects of Climate Change whose evidence is spread and seen all over, but yet we keep on postponing the climate action. We will lose the war at the end and it will be too late. #WeDontHaveTime!" - Cyprian Ogoti, Independent Environmental Journalist, Kenya
During the panel titled “Youth Leaders Learning Exchange,” young leaders advocated for enhanced inclusion in decision-making processes, harnessing their passion and concerns to drive meaningful changes, and promoting empathy as a tool to counter indifference. They underscored the importance of collaborative efforts over competitive ones. Ray Kiliho, West African organizer of climate action youth and Jane Goodall's Roots and Shoots, described the goal of creating more compassionate citizens, underscoring the dangers of apathy. Naina Agrawal-Hardin, a Yale University student, highlighted, through case studies, the role of climate litigation and its reliance on youth, traditional, local and indigenous knowledge.
“Addressing climate change is not only an environmental imperative; it is a moral responsibility that governments, businesses, and individuals must undertake together. The GEF Assembly serves as a vital platform for bringing together stakeholders from across the world to drive collective action towards a sustainable and resilient future.” - Samrendra K. Das, Senior Advocate, Delhi High Court, India
Rodriguez opened the Dialogue with Multilateral Environmental Agreement (MEA) Secretariats and the GEF, setting the expectation that everything is open for discussion, in terms of the GEF business model, regulations, and rules. Panellists from the secretariats of every MEA the GEF serves spoke to key Convention outcomes and expectations for GEF support.
The session focusing on Indigenous and Local Knowledge examined the potential contributions of Indigenous Peoples and local communities, along with strategies for enhancing these contributions. Eduardo S. Brondízio of Indiana University highlighted that local leadership improves the success of place-based initiatives.
"Youth and Indigenous Peoples are constantly in need of sacrificing" - Skw'akw'as (Sunshine) Dunstan-Moore, Community Climate Justice Coordinator for TLKemchEEn, whose family is impacted by wildfires
In the session centred on the Arctic and the North, the emphasis was on indigenous knowledge and its role in connecting Indigenous Peoples while informing the formulation of climate change adaptation strategies and scientific endeavours. Similarly, the session centred on the Amazon delved into how conservation acts as a bridge, linking community-based initiatives for the sustainable management of fisheries.
Rosina Bierbaum brought the day's discussions to a conclusion by underscoring the main themes that emerged. Throughout the day, auxiliary events took place, among which was the inauguration of the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework Pavilion.

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