Food for the cities programme

How can cities tap the Global Environment Facility to improve their food systems?


Sustainable Cities is among the eleven integrated programs of the Global Environment Facility’s 8th replenishment cycle (GEF-8), yet many cities are unaware of how they might access support to advance food systems transformation for sustainability and resilience. Yuna Chun, Urban Development Analyst at World Bank Group, identifies three routes under the GEF Sustainable Cities Program, and encourages cities to work with their national government to identify upcoming opportunities.

The Global Environment Facility (GEF) is a critical part of the financing landscape that enables developing countries to address climate issues, support biodiversity, and combat pollution. Founded on the eve of the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, the GEF is a ‘family of funds’ that includes the Global Environment Facility Trust Fund, Global Biodiversity Framework Fund, Least Developed Countries Fund, Special Climate Change Fund, Nagoya Protocol Implementation Funds, and Capacity-building initiative for Transparency Trust Fund.  

The GEF 8 Integrated Program (2022-2026) focuses on ‘Moving towards an equitable, nature-positive, carbon-neutral and pollution free world’. The World Bank was selected as the lead agency for GEF 8 Sustainable Cities Integrated Program, working very closely with 9 implementing agencies, including FAO, to support cities across 20 countries.  

At a recent City Region Food Systems Knowledge Exchange Webinar on ‘Financing urban and city region food actions’, Chun identified three possible routes for cities to access support under the GEF Sustainable Cities Program.  

1. Access knowledge on food systems through the Global Platform for Sustainable Cities  

The Global Platform for Sustainable Cities was launched in 2016 as part of the GEF 6 Sustainable Cities Integrated Approach Pilot to connect cities with global expertise and cutting-edge research for integrated urban planning, city knowledge exchange, learning and sharing of good practices. This knowledge and partnership platform produces tools and guidance for cities on priority themes. In the GEF 8 period, one of the priority areas includes circularity in cities with a focus on sustainable food systems. All knowledge outputs and public webinars are free access, thereby supporting cities in advancing their work on sustainable foods systems. Cities can also express interest in participating in knowledge exchange events on food systems. 

2. Become a child project of the Sustainable Cities Program  

Under the Sustainable Cities Program, the World Bank’s Global Platform for Sustainable Cities works closely with other multilateral development banks (MDBs), international financial institutions, the private sector and city networks to share knowledge, expand partnerships and networks, scale ambitions, and leverage resources.  

Cities can submit their interest to join the Sustainable Cities Program through Expressions of Interest in response to calls by the GEF Secretariat. In these, they can include city-level interventions on sustainable food systems, as part of an integrated urban sustainability approach with the intention of delivering global environmental benefits related to climate change, nature, and pollution. Chun explained that these ‘child projects’ involve working with city officials, urban actors from across various sectors, and national governments to create innovative models for implementation of integrated sustainability solutions and investments. 

The Global Platform and the child projects are designed to be mutually beneficial. On the one hand the platform provides coordination, tools and innovation, knowledge sharing, and resource and network mobilisation to the child projects. On the other hand, each child project feeds the platform with new knowledge, lessons learned, local/domestic institutions partners, political leadership and innovation.  

The child projects are selected through a competitive process. After issuing a call for proposals, a project concept is identified at the national level and a GEF Agency submits a program framework document (PFD) comprising of selected proposals from different cities for evaluation by the GEF Secretariat and Council. After the GEF Council’s approval, the agency then prepares the project appraisal through a CEO endorsement package. After this has been processed, the project can finally be implemented, and is subject to periodic monitoring and evaluation. 

The council approval of the PFD for GEF 8 Sustainable Cities Integrated Program is anticipated in June. “I highly encourage cities to work with the national government and the respective implementing agencies to prepare and apply for a child project of GEF 9 and beyond”, said Chun. 

3. Lighthouse Cities of the Urban Nature Program  

During GEF 8, the Global Platform has three focus areas: Nature Positive and Resilient Urban Development, Decarbonized Built Environment, and Circular Economy. Cross-cutting themes include land use planning and urban strategies/policies, inclusiveness and gender, and financing and private sector engagement.  

The Urban Nature Program, launched at COP28, falls under ‘Nature Positive and Resilient Urban Development’ and offers the opportunity for ‘Lighthouse Cities’ to act as champions of urban nature, helping to drive engagement around the globe. It will support cites through three different workstreams: ‘upstream’ policy support; ‘midstream’ project preparation support; and ‘downstream’ investment.  

Focusing on the midstream and downstream, Chun said the work “aims at influencing the portfolio development of finance institutions and supporting selected lighthouse cities in the project design for investment.” The proposed modalities of delivery are expert support for project design that enhances nature-based solutions and green urban infrastructure; development of a green/blue infrastructure investment framework; mainstreaming nature into investment by linking the portfolio development of GEF, MDBs, financial institutions, and the private sector; and facilitating private sector engagement at the national level.  

Chun concluded by emphasizing: “We want to provide technical support to cities to build bankable projects, and also to develop green and blue infrastructure investment framework.”