Poor countries will hold the rich to account on climate finance

Comment: The major UN climate fund is running short of money, will rich countries live up to the promises they have given?

Meenakshi Dewan tends to maintenance work on the solar street lighting in her village of Tinginaput, India (Photo: UK Aid)

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Like many climate-vulnerable developing countries, the Philippines prioritises access to the Green Climate Fund (GCF) for its climate finance needs.

There are other various international and local sources of climate finance, but the GCF remains the largest and is specifically designed for direct access by developing countries, promoting a paradigm shift towards low emission and climate-resilient development.

The main concern surrounding the fund now is its replenishment. To date, the GCF has raised $10.3 billion, most of which were pooled in from, or pledged, by developed countries – or those considered to have caused global warming and climate change, and those urged by the Paris Agreement to take the lead in mobilising climate finance for developing countries.

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Now at the upcoming pledging conference in Paris this October 28-29, such mobilisation must progress beyond previous efforts.

A quick look at the GCF website shows that it has 111 projects in its portfolio, with $5.2bn allocated for approved projects, which, with co-financing (or pledges from the requesting country party to ascertain sustainability and ownership of the project), are valued at $18.7bn.

With more than half of the funds already granted or set aside for approved projects (more, after the board meeting this November), deducting also the operating costs of running the GCF secretariat, board meetings, and other activities and support programs, perhaps, there wouldn’t be much left in the fund – unless, of course, new pledges and donations come in.

This is a major concern for developing countries, especially for the Philippines and other countries that have yet to receive grants from the GCF. However, there’s a good chance that the Philippines might finally secure funding this year aside from existing readiness support, following the government’s issuance of three no-objection letters to one public and two private proposals for projects on coastal resilience as well as renewable energy and energy efficiency.

As we near 2020, the issue of replenishment is becoming more and more prominent. It is the year by which the developed countries committed to jointly mobilize $100bn in climate finance per year – a promise made way back in 2009, at the 15th UN climate talks (Cop15) held in Copenhagen, which was formalized a year later at Cop16 in Cancun (which also decided on the establishment of the GCF) and was later on reaffirmed in the Paris Agreement.

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A decade since then, however, I beg to ask: Will the developed countries be able to keep their promise?

In 2016 Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development did a study that conservatively affirmed developed countries were indeed on target by 2020.

The analysis, however, came out three years ago, and the global political landscape has changed since then. A few leaders from rich nations – such as United States president Donald Trump, who declared they would withdraw from the Paris Agreement, as well as Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who said last year they would not provide any more funding to the GCF – have seemingly curtailed the global progress on climate ambition and action.

The response of several US governors to form the United States Climate Alliance is a good sign the country can still meet its responsibilities to the Paris Agreement. Germany, Norway, France, and the UK have also committed to double their respective contributions to the GCF, while Ireland and Canada also indicated it would provide additional financing

Developing countries remember those who stood by their words and delivered their commitments, in the same way that we will hold into account those who just stood by. We are making progress, but more needs to be done.

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While every year has been a critical year for the GCF since it started operations in 2015, there will be greater expectation from the fund in the coming years as developing countries further anticipate increased mobilization of climate finance.

In order to realise its full potential, the GCF must urgently address the nuances and gaps in their financing policies, strategic direction, and investment criteria. Ultimately, they must increase the efficiency of their operations and its impact and support to developing countries.

Augmenting the GCF secretariat and increasing the frequency of board meetings are some earlier suggestions that need to be revisited. But whatever adjustments the fund may need, it must continue being a capable and service-oriented climate finance mechanism, especially in this time of climate crisis when developing countries grapple for any and all available climate finance they can get to stay alive.

Loren Legarda is an alternate member for Asia Pacific of the Green Climate Fund board. A former senator, she is now a deputy speaker of the Philippine House of Representatives, where she represents Antique province.

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