Crunch Time for the Green Climate Fund: 5 Issues to Watch at Critical Board Meeting
Next week, the Board of the Green Climate Fund (GCF), the world's largest international climate fund, will meet for the last time this year. The timing couldn't be more dramatic. The meeting comes on the heels of a new IPCC report that makes clear that the stakes are higher than ever before; impacts of just half a degree Celsius of additional warming will be worse than originally feared. The meeting will also be the last before climate negotiators meet in Poland in December to agree on implementing guidelines for the Paris Agreement, and where climate finance will be a topic of intense debate.
The GCF is nearing the end of its first funding period and has successfully approved $3.5 billion for 74 climate projects in 78 countries around the world. But the last Board meeting ended in chaos, without progress on key agenda items, and left the fund facing a crisis of confidence.
The world needs the GCF and similar funds dedicated to channeling climate funding to developing countries. That is why many eyes will be on the next GCF Board meeting, with stakeholders wondering if the governing body will come together and deliver results. At its upcoming meeting in Bahrain, the Board must get things back on track and restore confidence in the fund.
There is a lot on the agenda for the meeting, but here are the top five issues to watch:
1. Will the Board approve new projects?
Approving new funding proposals from developing countries is the core business of the fund. With no projects approved at the last Board meeting, stakeholders will be looking to see if the Board succeeds in approving new projects this time around.
There are 20 proposals worth $1.1 billion up for approval. It is an ambitious docket, the largest ever put before the GCF Board. However, it may not be smooth sailing for all proposals. Based on past Board debates, open questions include: How should the GCF calibrate oversight for high risk programs where the Board approves an overall allocation of funding and implementers decide specific activities to support? What level of support the Fund should provide to higher-income developing countries? Should the GCF fund activities that potentially increase the viability of fossil fuel production?
2. Will the Board accredit new partners?
There are 16 new entities up for "accreditation," a screening process that any entity seeking to work with the GCF must complete before being eligible for funding. Nine are national entities from developing countries and three are private sector entities; these are positive signals that respond to the Board's request last year that the GCF Secretariat focus on supporting accreditation of such entities.
However, there are concerns about the GCF's capacity to manage relationships with a growing number of entities (75, if the new entities go through). In turn, this raises concerns about an equitable distribution of national entities that can work with the fund. At the moment, some developing countries have multiple entities (e.g. India, Bangladesh) and others have none (e.g. Brazil, Nigeria). With increasing capacity constraints, the GCF will have to grapple with what an appropriate balance of international, regional and national entities, from public and private sectors, means for future accreditation. More fundamentally, some countries may question the process of accreditation as being too cumbersome on institutions for the kinds of projects they wish to implement. It is time for the Board to seriously evaluate the current system and consider other approaches.
3. How will replenishment take place?
The Fund is getting close to triggering its first replenishment, which will happen when it has approved 60 percent of its resources, roughly $5 billion in allocations. If all proposed projects are approved at this meeting, this would mean the replenishment would likely be triggered at the first Board meeting in 2019. The Board must take a decision on how the replenishment process will take place.
As we have argued previously, there is a need for an inclusive process that accounts for views of not just contributors, but also recipient countries and other stakeholders. Given the intensive work required, it is unusual for fund governing bodies to run replenishment processes themselves; instead, they delegate the task. In this spirit, we suggested that the Board appoint a facilitator with a mandate to consult all stakeholders and develop a replenishment policy which the Board can then consider and adopt. The facilitator should be a senior statesperson, with experience in climate diplomacy and the ability to talk to ministers and heads of state. It would help if they are no longer in government, and ideally from a developing country, in order to bring the necessary skills and trust needed.
4. Will decision-making be reformed?
The GCF's founding document, the Governing Instrument, requires the Board to develop procedures for decision making in the absence of consensus. This issue has been on the agenda seven times before but has been postponed for a variety of reasons.
Currently, the fund operates solely by consensus, which has been interpreted as unanimity. This means that any Board member can block any decision for any reason, which makes for costly delays. The status quo is not serving the interests of either developing or developed countries, and certainly not the decisive climate action called for by the IPCC's latest report.
At this meeting, the co-chairs have come forward with a proposal, similar to that used by the Montreal Protocol's Multilateral Fund and the Adaptation Fund, which would require more than one-third of members (that is to say, five members) from either developing or developed country Board members to oppose a decision in order to block it. This proposal, or some variation of it, could be a way forward. It is functionally similar to the option our colleagues recommended in a recent paper on the GCF.
By ensuring a one-member one-vote system, with a supermajority required for approval, the co-chairs' proposal would enhance the democratic legitimacy of the GCF. Importantly, based on the experience of other climate funds with voting procedures, voting would rarely, if ever, be used; consensus continues to be the default mode of working for all climate funds. But having a voting procedure in place as a back-up, for use when consensus cannot be reached, is key to fostering a more constructive working approach where board members are required to engage in good faith dialogue around proposed decisions.
5. Will the GCF review its performance?
After several years of operation, the GCF portfolio is due a review. Performance reviews of funds prior to their replenishment are standard across financing institutions. Typically, reviews shed light on the portfolio and its impact, identify policy work that is outstanding, draw lessons learned, and suggest possible future direction. Contributors need this kind of information to go back to their legislatures to raise more money for the fund, but a review can yield findings relevant to all stakeholders wanting to make the fund more effective.
The latest IPCC report emphasizes the need for more ambitious climate action: global emissions must be halved by 2030 and be net-zero by mid-century to limit warming to 1.5˚C. The GCF must play a key role in enabling this, and there is no time to waste in getting the Fund back on track.