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FEATURE: South Africa faces tough choices in Durban to save the Green Climate Fund


By Liane Schalatek, Heinrich Böll Stiftung North America

Living with a document that nobody really likes, attempting to carefully tweak the parts of the document that caused the most controversy, or opening it up entirely for a fully fledged negotiation among 194 countries – these were the three main decisions on the table at the start of the Durban CoP.

Each brought with it high stakes. Several days into the CoP, the rumours are flying, but it is still not clear which option will be chosen. However, most observers now expect informal consultations among a select few negotiators in an effort to keep the text together.

The document, the so-called draft governing instrument for the Green Climate Fund (GCF), was the result of a seven-month process during which a 40-member Transitional Committee (TC) made up of representatives from 25 developing and 15 developed countries attempted to reach a compromise on the scope, mission, governance structure and financing instruments the future GCF should have.

While most countries in the TC at its final meeting mid-November had grudgingly agreed to go along with the document, and send it to the Durban summit for approval, the United States and Saudi Arabia indicated they would not be able to support the text in its current form, and demanded further negotiations with significant text revisions.

South Africa currently holds the UNFCCC presidency. The host of the Durban summit now faces a tough task and a test of its diplomatic skills. It needs to save the Fund in order to save the ‘African CoP’. South Africa is therefore anxious to avoid a renegotiation of the entire text of the GCF design recommendations document, as this would practically ensure that other countries demand fixes for the parts of the document they dislike. The ALBA group of Latin American countries around Venezuela, Bolivia, Cuba and Nicaragua has already made noises in that regard. Desired fixes include, for instance, a reference to a private sector facility in the new Fund that would potentially allow private sector actors to be funded directly, which most developing countries oppose.

Also controversial are text provisions ensuring that the Board of the future Green Fund will have to answer in some detail to the Parties of the UN climate convention, which certain developed countries fear will rob the new GCF leadership of its flexibility to experiment and innovate. Most likely, South Africa will attempt to get a small group of hand-picked negotiators to work together to incrementally improve some of the text language, out of sight of the larger negotiations hustle or bustle. The wider discussion might then come in the second half of next week of the Durban negotiations, when ministers are replacing the technocrats at the negotiating table, and when political bargains will be struck.

The future of the GCF is probably one of the biggest bargaining chips in the Durban talks.  It is inextricably linked to debates around long-term climate financing (namely, how to reach the US$ 100 billion per year by 2020 that developed countries have committed to). It is linked to progress on achieving comprehensive frameworks for adaptation and forest conservation efforts in developing countries, and, most importantly, it’s linked to the increasingly dim future of the Kyoto Protocol, and whether future emissions reductions commitments will be voluntary or mandatory.

But in order to save the GCF in Durban, it will be vital to avoid holding progress on the Fund hostage to advances in these other negotiation areas, particularly the emissions reductions talks. A decision in South Africa signalling that the GCF will go ahead in a form acceptable to all countries, and that it will receive some initial funding, could prove to be the lifeline for the entire global climate negotiation process in and beyond Durban. Conversely, failing to reach such an agreement for a new global Green Fund will not only delay its start:  it might also shatter for the foreseeable future any prospects of progress in multilateral climate talks.

Photo: Benjamin Stephan

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