Mafalda Duarte named as next chief of UN climate fund

The CEO of the Climate Investment Funds has been picked to head the Green Climate Fund as its board faces its first complaint case

Mafalda Duarte

Mafalda Duarte, CEO of the Climate Investments Funds, as been selected as the next Green Climate Fund head (Photo: CIF Action)


The UN’s flagship climate fund has appointed one of the few women leaders in the multilateral climate finance space as its next executive director.

Mafalda Duarte, a Portuguese national, joins the Green Climate Fund from the Washington-based Climate Investment Funds (CIF), where she served as CEO since 2014.

She previously held senior positions at the African Development Bank and the World Bank, working on climate finance.

Duarte is replacing French UN veteran Yannick Glemarec, who served a four-year term at the helm of the GCF and is due to step down on 2 April. In 2019, Duarte was among the contenders to head the GCF but lost out to a shortlist of three white men.

The appointment comes as the board is faced with its first complaint case after indigenous peoples in Nicaragua alleged that a project to reduce deforestation is exacerbating violence with settlers invading their land.

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The Green Climate Fund was established in 2010 as the main investment arm to support developing countries deliver on the Paris Agreement goals.

Countries have pledged $20.3 billion to the fund since its creation. Duarte will manage a portfolio of over 200 projects and oversee the next replenishment phase which will culminate in a pledging conference later this year.

Victoria Gunderson, co-chair of the GCF board, said the board was “impressed with her vision and drive” and that her experience in managing climate funds will be crucial in helping the GCF catalyse more funding.

Gunderson added that the recruitment process had been “highly competitive”.

The shortlist of candidates was not made public. But Climate Home News understands that Duarte beat Woochong Um, a Korean national and the managing director general of the Asian Development Bank, and Anthony Nyong, a senior director at the Global Center on Adaptation on secondment from the African Development Bank.

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In a statement following the announcement, Duarte said she was “honoured” to have been selected and looked forward to “accelerate the delivery of critically needed climate investments”.

“Developing countries are on the frontlines of the climate crisis. They can count on my resolve to support their climate aspirations in pursuit of a better climate future for all,” she said.

Henry Gonzalez, the fund’s deputy executive director, will serve as interim director until Duarte takes over.

Liane Schalatek, a civil society observer on the GCF board, welcomed having “an experienced climate finance leader” heading the fund.

But she told Climate Home that Duarte will need to adjust “to the very special role and accountability of the GCF as the core of the UN Climate Change financial mechanisms”, which she said is “very different” from the modus operandi of multilateral development banks.

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At the fund’s board meeting in Songdo, South Korea, this week, the fund’s redress mechanism is facing its first test.

Violence and human rights abuses

For the first time, board members will discuss a complaint brought by a coalition of local groups and international NGOs about a $117m project to reduce deforestation in the Unesco-designated Bosawás and Rio San Juan biosphere reserves, located in the Caribbean Region of Nicaragua.

The region is home to 80% of Nicaragua’s forests and the majority of its indigenous populations. Approved in 2020, the project aims to reduce extensive grazing and introduce agroforestry systems such as cocoa.

However, the region is gripped by increasingly violent conflict between indigenous communities and settlers, who are grabbing land to exploit the forest’s resources and farm cattle.

This week, the Center for Legal Assistance to Indigenous Peoples reported that a group of armed settlers attacked a community and killed up to seven people. Five people, including two children, from a separate community were allegedly kidnapped.

Complainants, which remain anonymous because of the risk of retaliation, allege that the project will exacerbate the violence. They say it was approved without their free, prior and informed consent or proper due diligence.

The conclusions of an investigation by the GCF’s Independent Redress Mechanism (IRM) have not been made public. But excerpts from a draft report, seen by Climate Home, give right to the complainants.

It finds that the project clearly violates several GCF safeguards and procedures, including the lack of consultation with indigenous groups, and that the project may exacerbate conflict.

The draft report cited ongoing human rights violations in the project area, including the massacre of indigenous peoples.

Setting a precedent

Florencia Ortúzar, a Chilean lawyer at the Interamerican Association for Environmental Defense (Aida), a regional NGO, supported the complainants bring their case to the GCF.

How the board deals with the case “is going to set a very important precedent” for future complaint cases, she told Climate Home.

Because of the sensitivity of the case, the board’s discussions will be held behind closed doors. The IRM  is expected to recommend robust due diligence on human rights and independent monitoring is carried out before the project is implemented.

But Ortúzar said complainants would prefer the project to be scrapped. They have “no confidence” in the Central American Bank for Economic Integration (Cabei), which is co-financing the project, nor the Nicaraguan government, she said.

Earlier this month, the UN Human Rights Council found that widespread human rights violations that amount to crimes against humanity are being committed against civilians by the Nicaragua government for political reasons.

Human rights experts said this was a product of the deliberate dismantling of democratic institutions and the destruction of civic space.

Read more on: Climate finance | Green Climate Fund | Indigenous peoples