Accountability demanded for green climate fund
Simon Donner is an assistant professor in the Department of Geography at the University of British Columbia in Canada. In November 2011, he and two other colleagues published a paper on the Green Climate Fund (GCF) in Science magazine, titled “Preparing to manage climate change financing.”
The paper criticized the United Nations’ past record of suddenly injecting vast sums of money into countries over a short period of time, which did not produce real results on the ground, and called for new managing and monitoring approaches for the GCF. In this interview, he shares with MediaGlobal the recent progress in setting up the GCF, suggesting specific solutions that can help the GCF avoid the pitfalls made by past international development aid efforts.
UNJ: Your paper was written in 2011, has there been any improvement/changes made by the GCF transitional board since then?
SD: At the May UN climate meeting in Bonn, it was announced that the GCF could on-track to start operation next year. People have been nominated to the 24-person board and cities are competing to host the headquarters. This preparation is mostly logistics; it is still unclear whether donor nations will meet their commitments and whether an effective monitoring and evaluation system will be developed.
UNJ: What is your opinion on the effectiveness of the GCF in helping developing countries fight climate risks?
SD: We’re only in the early stages. Promising to create and fund the GCF was easy. The hard work of raising money from the donor nations, avoiding waste and ensuring results on the ground is just beginning. The GCF can be effective – but only if the board heeds the lessons from past international development failures.
UNJ: What is your opinion on the current structure (top-down) of GCF? Any suggestions that can help the GCF cater more to the needs of specific countries?
SD: It is hard to avoid a top-down bias when the funding is controlled by international aid organizations comprised of government representatives. The GCF could easily fall prey to the waste and inefficiency that plagues other large aid organizations. One solution would be to adopt a scientific approach to aid delivery. This could include creating funding competitions, whereby countries propose their own climate change projects to the GCF, and using randomized controlled trials to test which projects will be most effective in different regions.
UNJ: How can civil society play a bigger role in the management and actions of the GCF?
SD: We need to demand accountability from the GCF and the donor nations. Simply getting countries to meet their funding pledges will be a huge challenge. Beyond that, we need to make sure the money is used wisely. That means pushing for alternative methods of aid delivery and evaluation. My colleagues and I recommend that the GCF employ an open auditing system, whereby a loose network of experts rather than a group of in-house auditors evaluate all program spending. That would provide an opportunity for civil society to engage directly in management of the GCF.
It is important to remember that the GCF will be only one conduit, albeit an important one, for the $100 billion per year the developed world promised in Cancun. People in Canada and other developed countries may be able to join the effort to help the developing world respond to climate change through other mechanisms, like government initiatives, non-governmental organizations, foundations and charities.
UNJ: What can countries that stand to receive aid from GCF (i.e. developing countries) do to ensure the greatest benefits and effectiveness?
SD: The recipient nations need to build the institutional capacity to handle funds from the GCF. To give just one example, too much development aid ends up being “recycled” back to the donor countries through the hiring of consultants and purchase of equipment. Education and training opportunities are critical to developing a community of people prepared to manage climate change aid projects.