By Spencer Fields and Graciela Kincaid
Since arriving in Durban, South Africa, for the 17th Conference of the Parties (COP17) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, we have been fortunate enough to engage in many different parts of the negotiation process, an experience that Graciela has deftly described here. Our yellow, non-governmental ID badges allow us access to a significant number of events, except when it comes to the actual proceedings of the UN Convention and Protocol bodies.
Most negotiations occur behind closed doors. As such, we anxiously await the release of the daily program each morning, which we comb through for sessions open to us “observers.” These open sessions are usually limited to informal consultations and contact groups, venues for delegates to discuss alterations to the actual text of the Convention and Protocol. While these sessions are often devoted to minor issues, they allow us to understand the roadblocks to moving forward with larger issues (not the least of which are the bureaucratic pleasantries that have kept the most recent sessions from actually reaching a substantive debate).
Every so often we luck out, and can attend the proceedings of the full Conference of the Parties. It’s an incomparable chance to rub shoulders with distinguished delegates from all over the world and witness the negotiations firsthand.
On Wednesday, we attended an open plenary session which reintroduced a report for the recently under-fire Green Climate Fund for the first time since last year. Anticipating diplomatic fireworks, we made our way into the plenary session. We were not disappointed.
The Green Climate Fund (GCF) was recommended by last year’s COP16 as a mechanism to provide funding for adaptation and mitigation projects in countries that need these funds most. The hope is to expand to providing resources for capacity-building and technology development and transfer. With these recommendations in mind, a Transitional Committee spent the last year creating a report as to how the Fund should function.
That report was released on Wednesday in the form of a “draft governing instrument,” a legislative outline for the operations and form of the GCF. After setting up the Fund as an entity with legal power, with a Board, Secretariat, and Trustee to run the organization, the draft governing instrument explains how the operational modalities of the Fund relate to overall goals. It sets up thematic funding windows, initially for adaptation and mitigation, and later for capacity building and technology development and transfer. Funds will be accessible through instruments like direct access, and the GCF will ensure a balanced allocation between adaptation and mitigation. Finally, and perhaps most contentiously, the draft states that the Fund will be replenished through financial inputs from both developed countries and the private sector.
This text has produced extreme controversy amongst the delegates, as we witnessed this week. Most countries expressed support of the draft: while it’s not perfect, the draft must be passed in order to commence implementation work. For example, Switzerland was the first delegate to speak, and stated that the parties must continue moving forward on the GCF, graciously offering to host the first meeting. The Democratic Republic of the Congo also sought to make the GCF operational as soon as possible, and emphasized that developing countries must have equal access to the Fund. The European Union similarly viewed the GCF as an essential part of “a balanced package” (words oft-repeated this week), and argued it is counterproductive to continue debating the draft composition. Barbados on behalf of AOSIS (the Alliance of Small Island States) also expressed support, and reiterated that the Fund “must not be an empty shell,” as it should require immediate pledges. Pakistan also argued that such pledges should be announced here in Durban. The representative of the Philippines, G-77, and China, was also supportive, and highlighted the need for transparency. Over the next several hours, Zambia, Norway, Indonesia, Grenada, Japan, Palau, Colombia, Belize, Singapore, Australia, Samoa, El Salvador, Mexico, New Zealand, Fiji, and Ethiopia each agreed to accept the draft as is, though many held minor reservations.
Interestingly, the United States’ position was less obstructive than many expected. The US delegate, Jonathan Pershing, said that the US has been “consistently supportive of the GCF since 2009” and emphasized the importance of leveraging private finance. The US reiterated that “we do want the GCF instrument to be approved here in Durban,” so that it may be “a major channel for climate finance now and in the years to come.”
The countries in opposition held starkly different views. On behalf of ALBA (the Bolivian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America group), Venezuela passionately stated that developing countries need “our green fund,” not one lacking its own international status, led by a World Bank trustee, and bearing funds from unclear sources (three of many problematic elements she raised). She found this version “unacceptable.” Egypt, too, stated that this GCF falls short: “we do not need another climate fund—we need a fund that meets the paradigms of climate finance.” Nigeria and Saudi Arabia also expressed serious concerns, which must be addressed before a decision on the GCF can be reached.
As the single nongovernmental interjection expressed at the end of the session, “we’re watching” the COP17 delegates as they continue to work through this contentious piece of text. Progress seems unlikely without reopening the “Pandora’s Box” of the GCF draft.