back to chapter index   download pdf

'The GEF in context'

Integrating Environment and Development in the New World Order

Despite early talk of a ‘peace dividend’ after the end of the Cold War benefiting the world’s poor people and natural environments, official aid has generally declined while weapons spending and hot wars for resources have continued apace since the announcement of a US-led New World Order by George Bush I in 1991. The same year, the GEF entered operation: an adaptation to the institutions of this emerging global ‘order’ in response to the rise of environmental movements as a geo-political force.

In the 1980s the green movement growing internationally and especially in the US faced intense resistance from powerful established interests: firms, bankers and politicians profoundly irritated if not convinced by multi-pronged ecological challenges to business as usual. The GEF was a strategic response by some of ‘those who claim maturity and legitimacy’ in the global ‘centres of political life’ (Walker, 1994). While financing UN multi-lateral environmental Conventions (see below) the GEF also served to draw the aspirations of a growing environmental movement into running discrete conservation projects and reforming the World Bank - one of the Bretton Woods ‘family’ of global financial institutions that includes the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and latterly the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

Created in 1945, the World Bank and IMF have intervened in the international economy primarily in the interests of their major shareholders – the US and Western European economic powers. Since the 1980s these institutions, joined by the WTO in 1994, have also promoted the ‘Washington Consensus’ of neo-liberal policies, which make life easier for big business,