The battle of reaching consensus and what we should be focusing on

by Claire Miranda-Balba

In view of the magnitude of climate change and the extensive work done over the years to address the crisis, it is distressing to know that these various international climate negotiations that we as Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) have invested our time and efforts on, have shown very slow progress. Why? Because of political dynamics between governments. Diverse views and self-serving interests usually prevail between those who are eager to do something and save their people from catastrophic climate impacts, and those who seem willing to take action but will only do so in an outcome that is more favorable for them.

The Green Climate Fund is not exempted from this scenario. As crucial stakeholders, CSOs have witnessed through the years how Board Meetings served as battlegrounds of country fights. The 24 Members of the Board, equally represented by developing and developed countries, tasked to make consensus-based decisions when it comes to the management and operations of the Fund, have time and again made polarized positions, consequently impeding progress. Case in point – the mobilization of the USD 100 Billion (per year by 2020) to address the mitigation and adaptation needs of developing countries is a crucial task for Board Members (BMs).

However, steps to reaching the target remain unclear, with GCF Board Members barely agreeing on important matters. And usually, it’s a developing versus developed country fight. This has been the case for the last 22 Board Meetings, and was especially evident last July 2018 at the 20th Board Meeting in Songdo, where merely the adoption of the meeting agenda was wrangled over for 3 days. No approval of funding proposals was made. No deliberation of accreditation applications took place. And a lot of constituency consultations and outside board room negotiations were done. Clearly, a meeting that led to more delays rather than progress.

So amid these tensions and constituency battles, you might ask, how did the Board propose to move forward? By voting.

While the Board reaffirmed that decisions are still to be made based on consensus, voting procedures were proposed as the last resort to resolve differences. It came up as early as the 3rd GCF Board Meeting in Berlin, but has been deferred several times because – as many  probably know by now – the Board can hardly agree on some things. Some proposed to apply a majority voting based on one vote per Board Member, while others suggested to link the votes of developed country BMs to their contributions. The constant deferral led to further delays in adopting important policies and approval of projects, including those that need urgent action, particularly matters related to replenishment and resource mobilization.

The debates and constant bantering among Board Members will probably run forever unless they all start focusing on what the Fund is about.

The proposal of linking voting rights with contributions, forwarded by developed country BMs, is very donor-driven and comparable to mechanisms implemented in multilateral banks offering climate finance. Unlike the GCF, these banks are accountable to their investors. If we apply the same structure to the GCF, the donors or developed country BMs serve as the investors, which explains why they have been acting like they own the Fund in Board Meetings. They forward conditions that strengthen the Fund’s governance structure, prioritize policy matters over resource mobilization, and now have proposed to shape Board decisions based on the amount of their contributions.

The Green Climate Fund was not created like that. It was established according to the principles of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) that ensures a country-driven approach, and is intended to support vulnerable nations in limiting their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and in adapting to the climate crisis. The Fund is not accountable to its investors or donors, but to the people in need of support. The GCF is actually the realization of the developed countries’ responsibility and debt payment to the billions of people suffering from the devastating climate impacts they did not create. Developing country BMs may appear non-cooperative whenever they refuse to discuss anything other than replenishment and securing direct access to resources of the most vulnerable, but they get it and have been standing by the purpose of the Fund. They may urge the Board to approve projects almost easily, but they do to save their people. They understand that if there will be no climate finance, mitigation and adaptation actions will be impossible, and limiting the atmospheric warming to 1.5°C can no longer be realized.

I know, these meetings are wasting the limited time we have for climate action. But as CSOs committed to make sure the Fund is effective, equitable and ambitious, we cannot let donor-driven or profit-oriented interests hamper the progress that needed to happen yesterday. Board Members, government officials, negotiators, and key stakeholders, have to be reminded about the real reason why urgent action is needed, why climate finance is essential and why the GCF was created. And why stalling to reach an ambitious and just agreement should never be an option.

Note: Photo by Matthew T Rader on Unsplash