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OPINION: The Green Climate Fund – How will it practice what it preaches?

Annelieke Douma and Anouk Franck of non-governmental organisation Both ENDS report from last week’s meeting of the Green Climate Fund in Paris.

It was clear from the outset that the expectations and the stakes for the 5th Green Climate Fund (GCF) Board meeting in Paris were high, since it was the last time the 24 Board members came together in 2013. After this meeting, the Fund is to transition from its design phase to its operational phase. After all, the GCF is meant to be the central finance channel to urgently help countries transition to low-carbon, climate-resilient development pathways.

While the political pressure was high, time to sufficiently prepare was sparse. Even this fifth time round, the GCF Secretariat did not manage to put the preparatory documents online by the anticipated deadline, three weeks prior to the Board meeting. To analyse all the 25 documents at this late stage was a challenge to say the least, for the Board members for whom this often is not a full time job, and also for active civil society observers like us. These papers present draft decisions that determine what the fund will look like, but are mostly written by anonymous consultants. Due to the late dissemination, there is limited time to discuss them with Board members prior to the meeting. And during the meeting, observers only have limited opportunity to be heard, via two individuals who are designated as the ‘active’ civil society observers. As a result, transparency and broad-based participation, which are deemed to be key principles of the Fund, seem to lose out.

Continued disagreements on resource mobilisation, combined with pressure to present solid progress by the GCF at the UNFCCC Conference of Parties in Warsaw, led to clear tensions and a number of emotional outbursts in the Board on the first day. Some Board members expressed their determination to reach a decision on resource mobilisation, and this saved the process from collapsing altogether. Indeed, a decision was reached the next day, although no concrete timeline for actual pledges could be agreed upon. The Board also reached decisions on the processes to confirm initial result areas and performance indicators, accreditation criteria, and readiness and preparatory support.

Meanwhile, the design of the GCF will soon have implications at the national level in developing countries. They will be asked to start a process for selecting a National Designated Authority (NDA) or country focal point. These NDAs could play a pivotal role in ensuring the GCF’s key objective of country ownership and engaging all stakeholders at national and sub-national level in decision-making.

However, the GCF Board did not specify mandatory criteria for the composition or governance of NDAs at this latest meeting. Furthermore, no clear proposal is yet on the table for inclusive stakeholder involvement within countries, as practised through the multi-stakeholder bodies of the Global Fund to Fight HIV/AIDS, Malaria and Tuberculosis, for example.

Fortunately, there will be a paper on best practices for NDAs coming up for discussion at the next meeting in 2014. Still, since conclusions from these best practices will be guiding only, we see an important role for in-country multi-stakeholder dialogues about the question how to ensure transparent and inclusive decision-making on the use of GCF funds at country level. In the end, considering GCF’s commitment to country ownership, it is at the country level that most decisions on fund allocation need to be made. Early engagement of civil society in-country is therefore vital, to ensure they can play an effective role in the full decision-making cycle, from planning to monitoring and evaluation.

Although many challenges remain, the Board members will return to their homes satisfied that they can report back enough progress to keep faith in the process. What became very clear again in Paris is the perceived need to speed up the decision-making process. The current process whereby the Secretariat is responsible for coordinating a huge number of supporting papers to prepare decisions is far from ideal. It remains crucial, however, that in its balancing act, the GCF will not let speed be an overbearing factor at the expense of its commitment to transparency and meaningful stakeholder participation.

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