future of the Earth is in our hands'
In fact, the growing environmental movement
challenging the World Bank and IMF in the late 1980s was partially
headed off at the pass with the help of GEF’s new conservation
money. Billions of additional aid dollars promised for conservation
projects eclipsed Southern and radical Northern environmentalists’
claims for global ecological justice, environmental regulation
on international trade and full and fair cost-benefit analyses
of economic investments to ensure the polluter always pays.
Suggesting that governments were, after all, willing to commit
to environmental action, GEF’s additional green aid also aspired
to bring in new partners and co-ordinate existing international
institutions to respect the global environmental commons.
Thus the World Bank could turn its critics into consultants
- accepting their advice within limits, offering project contracts
and promising participation in the catalysis of global capital’s
evolution towards sustainability.
A publicly funded experiment, GEF was intended to generate
lessons for a mission in which - as the UN Environment Programme
(UNEP, created twenty years earlier) had already found to
its cost - there are no easy answers. So far little known
and less understood, the story of the GEF may shine a light
on conservation and colonialism, capitalism and complexity,
compromise, co-option and commodification in a rapidly transforming
world. It may even suggest things that could be done differently
- more fairly and effectively - in future innovations for
global environmental security.