on 23rd February 2018

Four steps to build the SDGs into the Green Climate Fund

The Green Climate Fund (GCF) aims to promote the paradigm shift towards low-emission and climate-resilient development pathways, in the context of sustainable development. The GCF has also been referenced in discussions about ways to fund the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). There is also an indication that the SDGs are increasingly adhered to in the GCF’s communication, for example on Twitter. But how much has the GCF already developed a consistent approach towards the SDGs? This article takes a closer look at this matter and suggests areas where the GCF can do better which can be addressed by members of the GCF Board at their 19th meeting from 27-29 February in Korea.

Guide project proponents through funding templates

The SDGs are not yet integrated into most of the funding proposals submitted to the GCF. Most of the projects proposed and approved after 2015, when the SDGs were adopted, lack any reference to the SDGs. Out of the 23 projects considered for funding at the 19th Board meeting only 6 of the projects mention the SDGs, none of them making a more detailed link (e.g. on the SDG target level) to nationally identified SDG priorities. Interestingly, the Independent Technical Assessment Panel, an expert body reviewing the funding proposals, partially does the job for the project proponents. In its reviews, it outlined the expected SDG benefits on the goal level for 4 project proposals which do not even mention the SDGs. Part of the explanation for this may be that both the concept note template and the full proposal template ignore the SDGs. A little awareness-raising through the GCF templates would not do any harm here and does not conflict with country ownership.

Address SDGs in new investment criteria indicators

The GCF’s six investment criteria – impact, paradigm shift, sustainable development, needs of the recipient, country ownership, efficiency and effectiveness – are a key framework against which project proposals are assessed. The GCF Board has discussed, for quite some time, whether and how to set benchmarks for such criteria. In principle, the idea is to provide more objective indicators and, partially, quantification of what constitutes a transformational, high-quality programme. However, this is also complex and challenging as the programmes have multiple dimensions and reflect diverse national and local circumstances.

The approach presented for the 19th Board Meeting suggests the adoption of a set of investment criteria indicators (not benchmarks), ranging from quantitative ranges in the area of mitigation taking into account different country circumstances, to relatively vague qualitative guidance on adaptation, to setting minimum requirements which projects are expected to fulfil (e.g. contributing to at least one co-benefit in each of the economic, environmental and social sphere). However, it is surprising that the draft under consideration by the GCF Board does not mention the SDGs in the area of “sustainable development potential”. As more and more countries have identified their national SDG priorities, it should be increasingly easy for them to take those into account in their GCF proposals. Within the new investment criteria indicators, the GCF Board can reference the SDGs and their localization in developing countries as an important framework.

Integrate SDGs consistently in new social and environmental policies

At its 19th meeting, the GCF Board is also expected to approve a new set of policies, currently available in draft form, in relation to indigenous peoples, environmental and social management, and gender equality and social inclusion. Putting these policies in place after several delays would be an important outcome of the meeting. The SDGs are not dealt with in a consistent way across the three policies. Positively, the draft Gender Equality and Social Inclusion Policy (GESI) has the most comprehensive approach. It stipulates that the GCF “shall” develop specific targets and progress indicators aligned with the SDG framework; that the annual performance reports submitted by AEs report against gender and social inclusion requirements, targets and goals in alignment with the SDGs; and requires the establishment of specific social impact and gender-performance indicators and gender-responsive data collection and measurement methods aligned with SDG5 on the project and programme level. In stark contrast to this, the draft Environmental and Social Policy does not even mention the acronym SDG, although one of its intended goals is to “maximize environmental and social benefits.” The same is the case for the Indigenous Peoples Policy.

Help countries align GCF-related planning and SDGs through readiness support

Readiness support provided by the GCF is strongly requested by developing countries and, for many countries, specific cooperation programmes have already been elaborated in the GCF. After some years of implementation, upon the request of the Board, the GCF Secretariat has undertaken an initial review of the readiness programme. The SDGs are not featured significantly in the GCF’s readiness programme. For example, they are absent from the GCF Secretariat’s guidebook for accessing the readiness and preparatory support programme, as well as the associated proposal template. The review identifies the strengthening of the “alignment of climate change readiness with the broader developmental agenda,” including the SDGs, as an additional action under consideration for implementation in 2018. However, which actions the Secretariat will take to achieve this strengthening remains open. Hopefully, the SDGs will be featured more strongly in various countries within the concrete readiness activities.

It is evident that the GCF has work ahead to develop a consistent approach towards the SDGs. A stronger integration of the SDGs into the GCF procedures, based on nationally identified priorities in the climate change and SDG context, would strengthen the GCF’s role as an enabler of integrated action in developing countries to better meet their needs with regard to climate change and sustainable development.


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