Green Climate Fund ‘a laughing stock’, say poor countries

It was hydropower dams in, community drought readiness out, amid rich-poor tensions at the UN’s flagship climate finance scheme

Women and girls traditionally bear the burden of carrying water in drought-prone Ethiopia (Pic: UNICEF Ethiopia/2016/Mulugeta Ayene)

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A funding bid to drought-proof Ethiopian communities was left in limbo on Thursday after a meeting of the UN’s flagship climate finance initiative.

Eight projects worth $755m were approved by the Green Climate Fund board, including the contentious refurbishment of a Soviet-era hydropower dam in Tajikistan and $265m for renewable energy projects across the developing world.

But delegates could not reach consensus on a request for $100 million to support farmers and pastoralists in Ethiopia. The US, Canada, Switzerland, Sweden, Germany and Japan objected to the proposal, while African delegates fought to keep it open.

Tosi Mpanu Mpanu, a board member from DR Congo, warned the indecision was diminishing the fund’s credibility among recipient countries.

“They are saying the GCF board is a laughing stock, they are seeing people to go the extra mile and when we do it is still not good enough,” he said. “I really want to encourage people to join the ambition club and do some good work which is accepted by the board.”

After a board member from Germany objected to the phrase “laughing stock”, Mpanu Mpanu agreed to withdraw the comment.

Delegates agreed the board needed to clarify funding criteria at the next meeting in July, to avoid making policy decisions on the fly.

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The bid, put forward by the Ethiopian government and UN Development Programme (UNDP), involved a suite of measures to prepare people, particularly women, for water scarcity. Global warming is expected to make rainfall more unpredictable in the already drought-prone region.

Critics questioned whether the five year programme was truly focused on adapting to climate change, as opposed to general development. Its defenders acknowledged some weaknesses but argued Ethiopia was being held to a tougher standard than other, also imperfect, proposals.

A source at the UNDP told Climate Home they would work with the Ethiopian government to revise the bid and bring it back to the table.

Observers at the board meeting complained that donor countries were displaying an ideological preference for large scale infrastructure projects, rather than ones that build resilience within communities.

The fund was set up to bring about a “paradigm shift” in the global response to climate change, by supporting efforts in developing countries. It has raised $10 billion worth of donations to allocate (minus $2bn from the US which Donald Trump has committed to axing).

The brief is to split funds 50/50 between low carbon development and adaptation to the impacts of climate change. At least half of the adaptation money is earmarked for the most vulnerable countries, a category that includes Ethiopia.

Thursday’s decisions take the total number of ongoing projects to 43, with $2.2bn of GCF funds mobilising $5.2bn from other sources.

Among the approvals were three large hydropower schemes, despite civil society objections. The most controversial involved upgrading Qairokkum dam in Tajikistan. “Rehabilitating ageing infrastructure may make economic sense, but it is no way transformational as GCF criteria requires,” wrote Joshua Klemm of International Rivers and Florencia Ortúzar of AIDA.

Other projects targeted solar-powered irrigation in tribal areas of India, farming in Morocco and renewable energy in Egypt.

“The GCF has a busy agenda for 2017 as it matures as an organisation,” said board co-chair Ewen McDonald from Australia. “We made good progress in 2016 and now need to show we can implement the funding we have committed by strengthening our core operations and improving the quality of the project pipeline which, together, will see us deliver real and lasting outcomes.”

The article was amended to include a reference to Mpanu Mpanu withdrawing his comment after an objection from another board member.

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