Q&A: Climate fund aims to propel global change

Marrakech Climate Change Conference posed for a group photo
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Ewen McDonald is co-chair of the governing board of the Green Climate Fund (GCF), the world’s largest dedicated international climate fund operating in the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) financial mechanism. He believes that for the South Korea-based fund to help bring about radical change towards low-emission, high-resilient development pathways it must target ways to trigger systemic change across all involved sectors worldwide.

In this interview with SciDev.Net, conducted on the sidelines of the 22nd UN Conference of the Parties on climate change (COP22), in Marrakesh, McDonald shares his thoughts on accreditation and funding access for the most vulnerable countries, the board’s upcoming meeting in the Pacific, its proactive gender requirements and support for climate science.

The GCF has been criticised as having a cumbersome accreditation process, particularly for developing country national entities which may have limited capacity to come up with all the required information. How is the GCF addressing this?

The fund’s accreditation process is detailed and thorough to ensure that its partner institutions meet relevant fiduciary standards and to safeguard against environmental and social harm. Achieving accreditation does take time, but maintaining the system’s high standards is critical and we cannot cut corners.

The GCF’s accreditation process is actually performing well. Unlike other funds, it has accredited a diverse range of public and private entities at the national, regional and international levels.

Since the fund’s launch, 41 entities have been accredited. Of these, 18 are direct access (national or regional entities nominated for accreditation to the GCF by national designated authorities); 4 are private sector entities; and 19 are international access entities.

The GCF emphasises the importance of direct access entities. Its mandate is to pursue a country-driven approach and promote and strengthen engagement at the country level. The board has identified priorities for accreditation to achieve balance, diversity and coverage in the GCF’s network of accredited entities. To this end, it will give due consideration to national direct access entities particularly in developing countries.

The fund is currently supporting 16 entities in 13 countries seeking accreditation under direct access to develop an accreditation gap assessment and action plan. 

Is the fund also working to improve access to resources by direct access entities, particularly in small island developing states (SIDS) and least developed countries (LDCs)?

Yes. At its meeting in June 2016, the board agreed on measures that will help boost the proportion of proposals coming from direct access entities. It decided on the operational modalities of the fund’s project preparation facility (PPF), which supports all accredited entities, but particularly direct access entities, to prepare project proposals. Entities can receive up to US$1.5 million per request under the PPF.

The GCF board also agreed on a range of activities that can be supported by the readiness and preparatory support programme, including specific support for direct access entities. Eligible activities include awareness raising, gaps analyses and capacity-building. So far, US$30 million has been allocated to this programme, half of which will be provided to LDCs, SIDS and African states.

The GCF board has approved so far US$1.17 billion for projects and programmes to be implemented in around 40 countries that are predominantly LDCs, SIDS and African states.

Tell us more about the GCF meeting in the Pacific for the first time this December. What will be the focus at that meeting?

The next meeting of the board — final meeting in 2016 — will take place in Apia, Samoa, from 13-15 December. This will be the first time the board meets in the Pacific with many of those attending first time to set foot in the Pacific. In my view, this is a critical opportunity to raise awareness and enable members and observers to see first-hand the vulnerability and climate finance needs specific to the region.

The Samoan government is doing a tremendous job organising an event that we hope will trigger greater climate finance momentum and focus in the Pacific.

The Apia board meeting will consider a review of the initial proposal approval process and operational guidelines for a simplified process for certain activities. It will also consider the next round of funding proposals and reveal how well the fund has performed against the board’s US$2.5 billion approvals target in 2016.

The GCF has been proactive with its gender requirements. Why did the fund choose to make gender a priority and how do you hope this will change the way private institutions and other international climate funds conceptualise what is needed to craft an effective climate change programme?  

It is well-documented that climate change impacts will exacerbate existing inequalities between women and men. It’s also widely recognised that both women and men contribute to combating climate change. In this context, the fund’s governing instrument gives a clear mandate to pursue a gender-sensitive approach, reinforced by the board’s adoption of a gender policy and a gender action plan.

An entity must comply with the GCF’s gender policy before it can become accredited, let alone submit funding proposals. The fund is the first of its kind to include such proactive gender requirements. We understand that other institutions are developing similar approaches to mainstream gender considerations into their operations. This is a great outcome.

How can the GCF link climate finance and climate science to better meet the needs of developing countries?

GCF project and programme proposals can include support for improving a country’s climate science capacity. For example, the board has approved proposals in Malawi, Mali, Sri Lanka and Namibia that include activities to develop climate information services. It has also approved proposals, for instance in Morocco and Namibia, involving scientific research and capacity-building in specific areas.

The fund also has a role to play in supporting entities when developing proposals to include scientific evidence in their proposals. GCF-funded climate change mitigation and adaptation investments must be guided by the best-available climate science and data. An independent technical advisory panel provides technical advice for the GCF secretariat and board to consider during the project development and approval process.

The GCF is in its first full year of operation. Its operating framework continues to be refined as we learn the practical lessons that can only come from experience. As the fund matures, it will be better able to identify the specific climate science needs of developing countries and where there is a role for the GCF.
Q&As are edited for length and clarity.
This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s South-East Asia & Pacific desk.