In August 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic seemed to be receding across many of the world’s wealthiest countries. Eager to boost their flagging economies, new policies for wearing facemasks, social distancing and contact tracing helped to reduce the spread of the virus, allowing businesses to open their doors and employees to get back to work.

At the same time, concerns were growing that COVID-19 recovery plans risked undermining progress on climate action, channelling scarce funds to bolster the very systems which require rapid transformation. With fewer than 10 years remaining to take action on climate change that could limit warming to an increase of 1.5°C, a green COVID recovery began to emerge as a possible turning point for green stimulus, including for supporting climate action in developing countries, and providing a unique opportunity to rethink the future of the global economy, choosing to actively invest in sustainability and resilience.

During its 26th Board Meeting, from 18–21 August, the Green Climate Fund (GCF), sought to position itself at the centre of this debate by demonstrating that it was open for business and channelling critical resources for developing countries to pursue low-carbon, climate resilient development, allowing already vulnerable communities to work to both respond to the pandemic and secure a sustainable future.

Today, as the GCF’s 27th Board Meeting begins, the context has changed remarkably. With much of the EU announcing second national lockdowns, and the US entering a third wave of infections, it is clear that the coronavirus is not going away any time soon.

Moving forward, how can the GCF keep the momentum that was seeded at B.26 and power the Fund through to an impactful 2021 and beyond? This is the key challenge for B.27: embracing the new normal while ensuring that ambitious climate action remains at the top of the agenda.

Milestone 1 – adopt an ambitious Updated Strategic Plan

One of the most important items on the B.27 agenda is the Updated Strategic Plan (USP) for the GCF 2020–2023. With the GCF-1 replenishment period well underway, the central aim of the USP is to set the strategic direction for how over US$ 10 billion in financing will be programmed.

If all proposed projects at B.27 are approved, the GCF will have allocated just over 20% of this funding envelope; one-third of the way to triggering the replenishment process to begin fundraising for GCF-2.

In this context, the GCF is in need of strategic guidance from the Board – guidance that provides insight on how the Fund should leverage its comparative advantage in the climate finance landscape to direct its resources – and an implementable plan which translates those priorities into procedures and resources to bring them to life.

Ideally, this would:

  • highlight specific actions for improving collaboration with the private sector, including using the GCF’s accreditation process broadly, in view of the Fund’s unique, partnership-focused business model
  • provide clear guidance on how to prioritize among incoming funding proposals, and
  • streamline the work of the GCF in order to increase speed, impact, quality and scale.

Adopting an ambitious USP will allow the Fund to take bold steps forward in 2021, channelling climate finance resources to where they are most urgently needed, leveraging relationships with the private sector to catalyse additional investment and create enabling environments for future work, and use the tools of accreditation to build capacity among GCF partners to shift their portfolios toward more sustainable, climate-resilient investments.

Milestone 2 – focus on results and learning

Second, the GCF can only be confident in the impacts of its work in 2020 and beyond if it strengthens focus on results and institutional learning.

Following a highly critical evaluation of the GCF’s Results Management Framework, the Fund recognized that its current suite of indicators for impact assessment was inconsistently applied, insufficiently aligned with the Fund’s investment Framework, and had several key gaps, particularly for adaptation projects.

In light of this, the GCF has been working to advance the Integrated Results Management Framework (IRMF), which would provide a needed update to this key policy. This update will serve to strengthen the Fund’s ability to measure results, which is essential for a growing portfolio.

The IRMF, also on the provisional agenda for B.27, should be adopted in order to allow for adequate assessment of GCF funded projects, such that the Fund and other actors may learn from the GCF’s experience and improve future project proposals.

The case of the IRMF also underscores the key role played by the GCF’s Independent Evaluation Unit (IEU): providing sharp and unbiased analytical insight to the GCF Board about the Fund’s operations. The IEU has completed seven detailed evaluations of various elements of the Fund’s work, including a comprehensive performance review of the GCF in 2019 to inform the GCF-1 replenishment. Crucially, many of the recommendations from this performance review have been taken up by the GCF-1 replenishment summary report , and continue to drive work on the Updated Strategic Plan.

B.27 will be the first meeting of the GCF Board without the now-former Head of the IEU , Dr Jyotsna Puri. As the GCF maintains its ambition to be a learning institution, continuously improving and setting the standard for best practice in climate finance around the world, the Board should move at B.27 to begin the process for urgently securing a new Head of the IEU. This will be no small task, as that individual will have big shoes to fill.

Milestone 3 – set the stage for success

Finally, at its last Board meeting of the year, the GCF will need to complete a number of key operational tasks to set the stage for success in 2021 and the remainder of the replenishment period, assuring that the Fund can reach its full potential. Most obviously, this will include approving the work plan and budget for the Secretariat, as well as for the various independent units which serve the Fund. These important resourcing decisions will ensure that the Fund is able to continue its support for developing countries.

The Board will also have to decide on the dates and venues for its meetings in 2021. While it is already a challenge to navigate full calendars, the Fund will also need to reckon with the notion that most – if not all – of the Board meetings in 2021 will need to take place virtually. As with B.26 and B.27, meeting virtually will pose significant challenges for ensuring inclusive participation – not only of Board members from all constituencies, but also of observers from research organizations, civil society, Indigenous Peoples’ groups, and the private sector.

This means that it is crucial to create clear processes to facilitate discussion on policy items, in order to fill the policy gaps identified in the work plan of the Board for 2020-2023. While the parameters for B.26 and B.27 were created under extraordinary circumstances, it is now incumbent on the Board to design more enduring structures for their work in 2021, including considering how to best leverage the expertise within the Secretariat to support its efforts in concluding these important policy discussions.

Finally, the Board will also need to elect a new pair of Co-Chairs for 2021, who will take the reins from Canada and Pakistan and assume responsibility for the Fund’s work in the lead up to the crucial 26th Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC, planned for November 2021 in Glasgow.

Overall, B.27 is about looking forward. While 2020 has been an intensely challenging year, full of upheaval, struggle, and transformation, climate change remains a pressing threat for the future of human flourishing on this planet. We cannot afford to wait any longer. In 2021, the GCF must seek to lead the way for climate action, living up to its mandate to support a paradigm shift toward a low-carbon, climate resilient future. B.27 will be a critical step toward realizing this vision.

CONFLICT OF INTEREST STATEMENT

Kevin M. Adams, Research Fellow at SEI, serves as an advisor to the Swedish Alternate Board Member of the Green Climate Fund. The views presented and any potential omissions in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not reflect those of the Government of Sweden, the Green Climate Fund, SEI, or the Stockholm Sustainable Finance Centre, nor does this piece contain any information which may be considered confidential as pursuant to the GCF Declaration of Impartiality and Confidentiality.