Dear Green Climate Fund board, Samoa needs you to deliver

Comment: This week’s meeting of the Board of the Green Climate Fund (GCF) in the Samoan capital Apia – here the country’s ambassador to the UN outlines his hopes

Bleaching in American Samoa during February 2015. The same reefs will be exposed to raised temperatures again in the coming months. Source: Caitlin Seaview Survey


The meeting is both of high symbolic and substantive value.

As the first GCF Board meeting in a Pacific small island developing country, it is kick-starting a year that must put vulnerable countries’ concerns on top of the international political agenda, culminating with the 2017 Climate Summit in Bonn under Fijian Presidency.

The underlying reason for bringing the Board to Samoa is to provide the GCF Board members and stakeholders with an opportunity to see and experience first-hand the realities that the Pacific region and island communities are already facing on a daily basis.

I hope this can foster greater appreciation, understanding and empathy by the Fund’s decision-making body of these challenges as well as the opportunities available through the GCF to address them through genuine and durable partnerships.

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Much of the debate around the GCF has been around what constitutes a ‘paradigm shift’ on the ground, and what projects will deliver ‘transformational impact’.

But in our collective action to address climate change, we must never lose sight of the simple truth that even projects by islands states, small as they may seem when compared to other larger and more expensive projects, in absolute term, they can still be impactful, effective, and bring about life-changing results in their own right.

After all, everything in life is relative and ‘small’ can also be beautiful.

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The board of the UN’s Green Climate Fund gathers in the Samoan capital of Apia from 13-15 December to map out a way forward, amid fears it’s not delivering on its mandate to generate a “paradigm shift” in green energy and climate resilience investments. So far, the GCF has awarded more than US$1 billion to 27 projects but only a tiny amount has been disbursed, documents show. In addition it’s looking unlikely the new Trump administration will deliver the extra $2.5 billion of support the US promised under Barack Obama.

The Board of the GCF is ideally placed to effectively advance this agenda. The GCF is the largest dedicated multilateral climate fund and is tasked to serve developing countries by supporting country-driven climate strategies through simplified and efficient application and approval procedures.

In the Board, it is our collective responsibility to put policies and procedures in place that enable all countries, even the smallest, to putting forward country-driven, high-quality funding proposals. After all, our decisions need to be to the benefit of the millions of people this Fund is supposed to serve.

Our Pacific islands have shown our commitment to the Paris Agreement’s ambitious objectives by being among the first countries to ratify the Agreement in an effort to demonstrate leadership despite our smallness. We are keen to demonstrate ambition and use the GCF to contribute to the global climate change efforts, but for this we need very targeted assistance and procedures.

Priority deliverables for Apia

Therefore, one of the main outcomes of the Samoa meeting has to be the operationalization of a key provision of the GCF Governing Instrument – the simplified approval process for micro and small-scale activities, as well as the streamlining of the Fund’s initial proposal approval process.

For us simplified procedures are not only about getting faster access to available resources, but on a broader level about building up and retaining the capacity in our regions to plan and implement climate change activities. We look to our partners to support us in this regard.

Earlier this year, a Regional Workshop co-organised by the GCF Secretariat and the Government of Australia and supported by the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat revealed tremendous interest in the GCF by our Pacific Leaders.

The GCF needs to build on this momentum of building genuine and durable partnerships with actors in the region.

Country ownership guidelines

In Apia, the Board has to finalise the GCF country ownership guidelines to send the signal that the GCF supports country-driven strategies and programmes defined through genuine and effective stakeholder consultations, in line with national priorities under the Paris Agreement and the GCF Strategic Plan.

Simplified approval procedures

For our islands, these are not about compromising the quality of proposals or jeopardising GCF safeguards and standards. On the contrary, simplified procedures should enable smaller countries with capacity-constraints to fulfil GCF criteria to participate in global ambitious climate action.

The challenge at hand is to find a solution for simplifying technical requirements for funding proposals without compromising the quality through the use of procedures that are truly fit-for-purpose.

Proposal approval process

To increase the quality of funding proposals, the Samoa meeting is also expected to adopt procedures that give more guidance and certainty to our countries and entities during proposal development and approval, for example through a two-step approach.

Funding proposals

Another key outcome will be the approval of a new balanced set of projects that will take the Fund closer to the Board’s USD 2.5bn aspirational target for 2016.

Direct access 

The Fund needs to make an effort to continuously support direct access entities not only to be accredited to the Fund but also to strengthen their capacities for complying with GCF standards and safeguards. Expedited and simplified readiness support will be crucial in this regard.

Redirecting financial flows

The GCF is in the unique position that it can use its mandate of promoting the paradigm shift towards low-emission and climate-resilient development to set new standards when it comes to monitoring how investments shift from brown to green.

The Apia meeting should continue making progress on policies on the potential of decarbonisation within the investment portfolios of GCF partner institutions.

It is very important that the GCF sends a strong and consistent signal to our private sector partners of what is the level of environmental integrity expected from them, if they are to access GCF funds in the future.

The Samoa GCF Board meeting will mark the close of an extremely important and successful year for climate action that saw the unprecedented entry into force of the Paris Agreement within less than a year after its adoption on December 12th in Paris in 2015.

Efforts by the GCF towards streamlining access to climate finance and reducing financing in carbon-intensive activities will be an important cornerstone for ambition and international partnerships for climate action and sustainable development in a time when it is our responsibility to maintain and strengthen multilateralism and international cooperation.

H. E. Aliioaiga Feturi Elisaia is Samoa’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations and currently serves as the Representative of Small Island Developing States on the Board of the Green Climate Fund. 

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