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FEATURE: Four lessons from supporting Ethiopia’s Green Climate Fund planning

What is required in developing projects for the Green Climate Fund? Kirsty Wilson, Principal Consultant – Climate Change, LTS International looks at four key lessons learned from the experience of supporting the Government of Ethiopia prepare a proposal to the Fund. 

Huge hopes are pinned on the ability of the Green Climate Fund (GCF) to mobilise and disburse climate funds that turn COP commitments into reality. To do this, the Fund must balance the need to reassure developed country contributors with robust procedures whilst also responding to developing country requests for greater autonomy in fund and programme management.

Both national and multilateral implementing entities are now beginning to be accredited and the first programmes to be funded were approved by the Fund in November 2015. CDKN contracted LTS International to support the Government of Ethiopia with a pipeline investment planning process for the GCF. A major part of our role was to develop a programme pipeline document for the water sector, from which ideas could be submitted to GCF. Here’s a short summary of some of what we learned:

  1. Communicate about GCF procedures but don’t reinvent the wheel

The Green Climate Fund is a great entry point – people know about it and get excited about the potential for resource mobilisation. However, Green Climate Fund has its own project proposal form and a continuously updated online operational manual now aptly titled – Fine Print. While it is helpful to communicate about this, it can seem intimidating to those who have limited experience of applying for international grants. It doesn’t need to be. Much of what the GCF wants is good programme design practice that already features in Ethiopia’s own planning and project appraisal handbooks.

The CDKN-supported investment planning project aimed to create lasting project development capacity within the water sector. Part of the project involved providing training and mentoring on interpreting GCF requirements and on good project design practice. However, linking technical specialists within the water ministry to support from project appraisal specialists in the Ministry of Finance and Economic Cooperation was equally essential.

  1. Respect the balance between technocratic ‘best fit’ and pragmatic national priorities

Programme prioritisation and appraisal can sometimes feel like a very technocratic process – a set of ideas can be assessed and the ‘right’ solution can be picked that represents the best fit between applicants’ and funders’ priorities. The reality is so much messier than this. There are national political priorities, urgent needs to progress pre-tested areas of work as well as less well-tested ideas that creative technicians would like to get going all jostling for a place in a funding proposal. At the same time, subtle differences in the process of project prioritisation and formulation that can make all the difference to an outcome!

GCF calls for ‘bold ideas’ but sometimes such ideas may not be prioritised when faced with the technocratic idea of ‘best fit’. On the other hand, ignoring technocratic considerations may not result in the best outcome if the process ignores the criteria that funding agencies are most interested in or doesn’t consider how different ideas fit together as an integrated project.

Finding a pragmatic way through this challenge requires a high level of flexibility and a willingness to listen and support national priorities and processes. It also means that building ‘adaptive management’ systems for learning and evaluation becomes even more important. It is these systems that will ensure that bold ideas can be tested against evidence and scaled up where they work.

  1. Involve technical staff from across the sector, not just ‘environment’ specialists

Perhaps this doesn’t need to be said anymore. Maybe somewhere there are still people who feel that responding to climate change is the responsibility of an environment ministry or a single unit within a ministry. Our experience showed very clearly that this is not enough.

In our work, we interacted with experts from across six of the water ministry’s directorates, who had core skills in: watershed management; water treatment; water, sanitation and hygiene; hydrological monitoring and others. It was impressive to see how their expertise was harnessed and brought together with knowledge on climate finance from the National Climate Finance Facility. Facilitating that process for the purpose of the pipeline proposal was our role but the political leadership to create that commitment came first.

  1. Hand over the pen but don’t stop the dialogue

The best way to leave lasting capacity in a sector for future project development is to hand over the pen and make sure that Government experts are the ones who write as much of the document as possible. However that doesn’t mean stepping away.

We used a proposal gap analysis process as a key technique for summarising missing or weaker areas and ensured that queries kept being directed to our Sectoral counterparts. This encouraged water sector staff to develop their proposal ideas over time. We also integrated a component of the proposal that focused on building internal adaptive management systems that would enable that dialogue to continue throughout the implementation of the programme.

These four lessons summarise some learning from LTS’s project supporting Ethiopia to develop one element of a cross-sectoral Green Climate Fund investment proposal pipeline. When the project started, the GCF fund allocation processes had not yet been tested and the accreditation of Ethiopia’s national climate finance vehicle was not yet secured. Nevertheless, the flexible approach we took to managing this uncertainty and to improving Government staff’s understanding of proposal development should stand the country in good stead for its ongoing efforts to mobilise funds from the GCF and other climate finance providers.

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