By Janet Redman
For those of us (wonks, admittedly) interested in the fate of the Green Climate Fund – potentially the most important multilateral institution to deal with climate change in the near future – the outcome of 2012 Doha climate summit was a disappointingly mixed bag.
The 194 countries assembled there made promising statements about the importance of the fund in the international climate financing architecture and outlined their work for the year ahead.
But by refusing to make any firm commitments in Doha to deliver money over the next decade, industrialized countries threatened to relegate the GCF, at least temporarily, to irrelevance.
No new money in the mid-term
Three years ago in Copenhagen, developed countries agreed that by 2020 they would make sure $100bn reached developing countries each year to address the impacts of climate change and support their shift from dirty energy to low-carbon development strategies.
They also promised to move $30bn right away – what’s come to be known as “fast start financing.” They left unfunded the years between 2012 and 2020.
Thus commitments from wealthy countries for specific amounts and deadlines for medium-term financing became a key ask for developing countries at Doha.
Wealthy countries did not, in the end, agree to funding targets or benchmarks to ensure the delivery of climate finance from now through the end of the decade.
The Doha decision weakly “encourages” developed countries that had already pledged to provide some climate money before 2015 to increase their efforts to at least what they had promised in the fast-start period, and “urges” the remaining developed nations to make pledges “when their financial circumstances permit.”
Hardly the display of urgency or mandate for action that any of us were hoping for.
The decision document also invited (but didn’t require) wealthy countries to submit their strategies for moving $100bn by 2020, and granted a one-year extension to a process meant to help indentify pathways for scaling up climate finance in the long term.
In other words, while governments say they’re anxiously awaiting the opening of the Green Climate Fund, there appears to be little enthusiasm for making public money actually flow.
Moving forward on GCF infrastructure
Despite a lack of political will to fill the fund, there was some forward movement on building an institution worth putting money into. The following four issues are some of the most important pieces of the Doha decision that the GCF’s board will report on when nations reconvene at the 2013 climate summit.
1. Secure funding
Seeing little money materialize in Doha, the board of the Green Climate Fund was tasked with securing funds from industrialized country governments as well as a variety of other public and private sources.
The economic crisis and budget shortfalls are pushing contributor countries to call on the private sector to be more involved in climate funding – even promising to funnel money directly from the Green Climate Fund to private investors for projects in developing countries.
But while the private sector has played a significant role in providing finance to energy and other climate-related projects, experience shows that left to its own devices, the private sector often doesn’t put the needs of people at the center of its investments.
For instance, money channeled through the private arm of the World Bank – the International Finance Corporation – tends to bypass impoverished countries and marginalized people within middle-income nations.
These are the countries and communities least responsible for causing the climate crisis, but most impacted by its effects.
GCF board members will have to establish rules for effective, appropriate engagement for the private sector to make sure that projects and policies prioritize the goals of the Green Climate Fund rather than those of investors.
At the same time, leaders should harness the popular narrative of fiscal hardship to implement innovative ideas for funding national budgets – like a carbon tax or a financial transaction tax. These policies are good for the climate and financial stability, and raise revenue that can be used beyond climate.
2. Develop a ”no-objection” procedure
Calling for a ‘no-objection’ procedure was one way that the Green Climate Fund’s founders tried to ensure that both private and public investment serves the needs of impacted people.
The procedure should help ensure genuine developing country ownership of activities within its own borders by giving any government the power to nix a project or program supported by the GCF headed for their country that doesn’t meet national goals.
Also, securing “no-objection” at the national level should help people living within a country – particularly individuals and communities affected by a GCF project – reject an activity that might be well-intentioned, but could ultimately undermine their development.
If designed right, the no-objection procedure could help filter out projects that are incompatible with national strategies, conflict with better programs and projects, or impose undue harm or costs upon host communities and their environment.
3. Balance support for adaptation and mitigation
Given the emphasis on pulling private sector investors into the fund, the GCF board will need to implement clear standards to ensure that programs and policies to build resilience to climate change impacts receive the resources they need.
Investors, not surprisingly, look for a return on their investment, and as a result support for profitable mitigation and large-scale projects dwarfs that for adaptation.
According to recent studies, only 15 percent of all climate finance goes to adaptation – for private climate finance that shrinks to a mere 5 percent.
The GCF board will have to go beyond setting rhetorical guideposts for allocating finance and establish concrete directives based on the goals of the fund and the needs of developing countries.
4. Set-up the structure
In order for the fund to meet its aim of providing climate finance for a climate-conscious paradigm shift, it needs a credible and effective infrastructure.
That’s why countries attending the Doha meeting asked the board to make arrangements for a permanent secretariat to take care of the day-to-day work of the fund, and to make a plan for coordinating with the other relevant bodies of the climate convention like the technology and adaptation committees.
The board was also tasked with establishing rules for an open, transparent and competitive bidding process to find a permanent trustee so that the World Bank – now holding the interim position – doesn’t automatically fill the post.
Many developing countries and climate campaigners are calling for an alternative to the World Bank because of its history of placing policy conditions on loans, racking up developing world debt, and supporting dirty energy around the planet.
On the bright side, Doha showed that both developing and developed countries are committed to getting the GCF up and running.
But for the Fund to meet the needs of climate-impacted communities, satisfy contributor countries, and achieve basic standards of fairness and effectiveness, its members have their work cut out for them this year.
Janet Redman is co-director of the Sustainable Energy and Economy Network at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington DC.
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