Time for the Green Climate Fund to grow up fast, or it will die slow

The Green Climate Fund is an essential institution to finance the global shift away from fossil fuel to clean technologies—but it needs an overhaul to remain effective and relevant, says Sindicatum Sustainable Resources CEO Assaad Razzouk.

gcf protest rednose
A rally against the corporatisation of the Green Climate Fund at the UN climate talks in Durban, South Africa, in 2011. Image: Luka Tomac / Friends of the Earth International, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

An executive search firm recently contacted me to hear my thoughts on recruiting a new boss for the UN’s South Korea-based Green Climate Fund, or GCF.

Everyone should be aware (though few are) of the mysterious GCF, an institution set up to change how we have been operating for over 200 years, by financing and accelerating the world’s shift away from oil, gas and coal towards clean energy economies and lifestyles.

This mammoth undertaking, underpinned by a stated goal of channelling, via the GCF, $100 billion a year into climate-friendly investments, was backed by the 2015 Paris climate agreement, the commitment by 185 countries to tackle the climate change bomb threatening our existence.

The search firm asking me for advice, Perrett Laver, didn’t follow up and disappeared into the internet anonymity it briefly sprang out of. Here are four thoughts on the future of the GCF I would have shared.

1. The GCF should scrap its way of doing business and start over

UN organisations are often (sometimes wrongly) criticised for unnecessary bureaucracy - but the GCF is in a league of its own.

In a concoction worthy of an additional paragraph in the dictionary entry for “bureaucracy”, the GCF wants to distribute money via partners it dubs “accredited entities”. These entities, vetted through an amazingly cumbersome process, alone are allowed to ask money from it.

Then, weirdly, the GCF deemed that “accredited entities” should include development banks, governments, various UN bodies and others. Basically, a list that encompasses all the existing bureaucracy in the world.

So what exactly is the point of the GCF then? Bureaucracy for the sake of bureaucracy? The first step for the new GCF boss should be to re-think this entire way of doing business.

2. The GCF should stop pretending it’s going to get $100 billion a year in funding

Trying to get $100 billion (per year!) for a new international institution is neither wise nor conducive to results. Yet it’s exactly what the GCF keeps harping on about.

Governments in the West aren’t in the mood to deliver this kind of money and poorer countries should not be expected to step into their shoes.

Crucially, the GCF doesn’t need that kind of cash to establish itself as the centre of efforts to mobilise upward of $1 trillion for climate finance: There is plenty already in the $150 trillion capital markets (and more with development banks).

Money is not the issue; accelerating its mobilisation and deployment is. Instead of setting unrealistic targets for funding, the GCF should put its efforts into making it easier to channel much more private and public funds into clean energy.

3. The GCF should stop fiddling with funding clean energy projects directly

A case in point. Recently, the GCF approved a $49 million loan to CAF, the Development Bank of Latin America, for a solar power plant in Chile. This is particularly annoying: Why is the GCF duplicating what others are doing, especially in countries that have no problem financing a solar revolution?

The GCF seems so desperate to appear alive that it decided not to properly think through its investment strategy.

This has to change. The GCF should avoid activities already covered by governments, the private sector, development banks, non-governmental institutions and think tanks. Instead, it should marshal and increase the resources already willing and able to finance resilience, adaptation and clean energy.

If the GCF could show the already abundant sources of capital out there, via an incubator and lab approach, how to do more with less, for example by developing financial products involving other people’s money, the fund could divert existing energy investments away from fossil fuels and onto a much broader slate of clean energy projects.

The GCF should show some guts and stop supporting fossil fuels and their proponents, including commercial banks and governments, drawing a clear red line delineating those it won’t do business with.

4. The GCF should end its distracting identity crisis.

A few steps are needed to pave the way for a GCF that works.

First, the fund should stop making grants, loans and equity investments: Plenty of others do this better. In 2015, for example, development banks mobilised $81 billion for climate finance and this was leveraged three times from other sources of capital.

Second, the GCF should show some guts and stop supporting fossil fuels and their proponents, including commercial banks and governments, drawing a clear red line delineating those it won’t do business with.

Third, the fund should focus on developing financial products built around risk-mitigation in order to increase and transform the amount available for climate finance from the capital markets, while adding value in a clearly distinguishable way.

For example, if the GCF focused on developing financial products that would take the “first-loss” from clean energy investments in Africa or Asia, then plenty of private capital would back it, leading to much higher levels of investments in clean energy than we see today.

Finally, it should push for legislative changes around the world, co-ordinating the efforts of NGOs currently too scattered to make an impact. Energy laws are still way too biased towards fossil fuels, not taking into consideration the devastating impact dirty energy has on all parts of society.

Perhaps Perrett Laver can relay these thoughts to the incoming head of the GCF.


Assaad Razzouk is chief executive officer, Sindicatum Sustainable Resources. This post was originally published on Huffington Post and is republished with permission.

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