The primary objective of the GEF is to assist securing global environment benefits in the areas of:
A wide spectrum of efforts to conserve and use earth's biological diversity makes up nearly half of all GEF projects.
Projects generally deal with one or more of four critical ecosystem types and the human communities found there:
- arid and semi-arid zones
- coastal, marine, and freshwater resources
Projects addressing climate change make up the next largest group of GEF-funded projects. Climate change projects are designed to reduce the risks of global climate change while providing energy for sustainable development.
GEF climate change projects are organized into four areas:
- removing barriers to energy efficiency and energy conservation
- promoting the adoption of renewable energy by removing barriers and reducing implementation costs
- reducing the long-term costs of low greenhouse gas emitting energy technologies
- supporting the development of sustainable transport
GEF projects aims to reverse the degradation of international waters.
These projects enable countries to recognize and learn more about the water-related challenges they share, find ways to work together, and undertake important domestic changes needed to solve problems.
The three categories of water projects are:
- water bodies
- integrated land and water projects
The interest of GEF in financing activities to prevent and control land degradation comes from the nature and extent of its link to global environmental change.
Destroyed forests and degraded water resources imperil biodiversity, induce climate change, and disturb hydrologic cycles.
Taking into account the objectives of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), dozens of GEF projects cut across the four focal areas described above to address land degradation.
In October 2002, the GEF Assembly approved land degradation as a new focal area, which means that a project may tackle land degradation as its primary objective. In September 2003, UNCCD designated the GEF as an official financial mechanism.
In May 2001, governments adopted the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) and named the GEF as the convention's interim financial mechanism, pending entry into force of the convention.
In October 2002, the GEF Assembly approved the addition of POPs as a new focal area.
POPs are highly stable compounds that circulate globally through a repeated process of evaporation and deposit, and are transported through the atmosphere and the oceans to regions far away from their original source.
They accumulate in the tissue of living organisms, which absorb POPs through food, water, and air.
The effects of POPs exposure include birth defects, cancers, and dysfunctional immune and reproductive systems.
POPs are also a threat to biodiversity, and even have the potential to cause disruption at the ecosystem level.