In the 10 years since its founding, the Global Environment Facility (GEF) has become one of the key institutions working to ensure that the fight against poverty stays in harmony with environmental protection, the United Nations Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, said today in a message to a meeting of countries participating in the fund. The recent replenishment of the GEF with $2.9 billion for the next four years was the biggest in its history, the Secretary-General noted in a message delivered on his behalf by Klaus Toepfer, Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), to the Second Assembly of the GEF, which began today in Beijing. “That is both a vote of confidence by your stakeholders – developed and developing countries alike – and a statement of expectation as we act now to carry out the agreements reached in Johannesburg,” Mr. Annan said, referring to a recent UN summit on sustainable development. The GEF was established in October 1991 as a joint programme of UNEP, the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the World Bank, and relies on voluntary contributions from countries to help solve global environmental problems. In his message today, the Secretary-General said that while the world was using energy more efficiently and improving compliance with agreements to protect the ozone layer, there was still “a global net loss in forestry and little change in reducing indoor air pollution.” He also noted that the Kyoto Protocol, which is meant to cut the levels of so-called greenhouse gases, had still not entered into force while many regions stood the risk of environmental crisis in the years ahead. However, since the Johannesburg Summit in September, Mr. Annan said, there has been a major advance in forging partnerships among governments, civil society groups and the private sector while much of the conceptual confusion that plagued sustainable development appeared to have been put to rest. “The world now understands, more than ever before, that fighting poverty and protecting the environment are two sides of the same coin – compatible, mutually reinforcing goals, rather than a zero-sum game,” he said. In related news, the Chief Executive Officer of the GEF, Mohamed El-Ashry, announced that he would be stepping down when his term ends in July 2003. He has been head of the Facility since its inception.