I interrupt my India bulletins for some important news about the Green Climate Fund (GCF). As I said in a previous blog, the GCF is an important climate fund that is currently being designed by the GCF Board. Some elements of this design were finalized at the recent meeting in Songdo, South Korea.
One outcome agreed at the Songdo meeting is highly commendable. The Board decided to consider at its first meeting in 2014 additional modalities that further enhance direct access, including through funding entities with a view to enhancing country ownership of projects and programs.
So far, so good. Enhanced direct access is a very important element that could allow in-country decision making on the use of funds, depending on how it is eventually defined by the GCF. Many Board members wanted it out, but India and the LDCs valiantly pushed back and ultimately won the day.
Another decision taken at Songdo by the Board, however, simply beggars belief. As mentioned in the previous blog, it has been a bit of a challenge to ensure that the GCF Board functions in a transparent manner. Early signs pointed at them being even more regressive than existing models of ensuring transparency, which themselves are not stellar. Unfortunately, these early signs proved all too correct.
One issue was that of live webcasting of GCF Board meetings. This is a good way of ensuring that government and non-government stakeholders who cannot travel to the meetings are not only kept informed of what’s going on in the Board meetings, but can also react in a timely manner.
At the last meeting in Berlin, there appeared to be consensus on the issue of webcasting. But the co-chairs asked that a technical feasibility study be carried out before taking a decision. It is not clear why such a study was needed – webcasting is fairly simple and standard practice these days, not some new-fangled technology.
It is also not clear whether a technical feasibility study was eventually carried out. There was, however, a section in a document for the Songdo session that discusses the merits and demerits of webcasting and provides options for the Board.
In this document, the cost of live webcasting, listed as US$ 20- 30,000 per session, is put forward as an argument against. Where did these figures come from? As one civil society representative pointed out, the Adaptation Fund Board has been webcasting at the cost of US $1,000-1,250 a day. The GCF, at least ten times the size of the Adaptation Fund, can definitely afford this much or a bit more. The returns in stakeholder goodwill and support alone will make this investment in transparency worthwhile.
Another disadvantage listed in the document is that webcasting generally has an impact on the nature of the discussion. The idea that webcasting will inhibit frank discussions simply does not bear out with experience in other comparable bodies. Assuming that at least some legitimised observers are physically present at each Board meeting, members will face to possibility that they will be held to account for what they actually say, webcasting or no webcasting.
Let’s also be clear – this is not any old private sector bank or financial institution Board we’re talking about. This is a public fund, with a clear responsibility to a very wide range of stakeholders, right down to the grassroots. Decisions taken by this Board will have life-changing consequences for many people. The very least the Board can do is to take these decisions in a transparent way, so potential beneficiaries (or victims, as the case may be) can intervene in a timely fashion.
The document then goes on to present three possible options for the Board: live webcasting; on-demand webcasting (where a video recording is made available three weeks after the meeting); and no webcasting.
In the third option, the document proposes to publish transcripts of the meeting after a period of ten years, “as a means of providing transparency”!!!!! I do not need to highlight the extreme absurdity of this antediluvian idea, but believe it or not, this was the one recommended by the Australian and South African co-chairs!
Interventions by Board members from the LDC Group, who pointed out that webcasting would be extremely useful for them as they cannot afford to fly around an army of experts to advice them, eventually led to the second option being agreed – that a video recording would be made publically available after three weeks.
The absurdity does not end there. The Board meetings will be webcast live – but only to a room next door, for observers who have flown half-way across the world to attend. If you don’t have the resources to do that, well then you will just have to wait three weeks to watch the webcast. And no, there is no particular reason why the three-week timeline was chosen, so don’t try to make sense out if it.
The most disturbing aspect of this whole farce is that developed countries, those self-professed champions of transparency and good governance, kept quiet (with the laudable exception of Sweden) while the LDC group fought Australia to keep webcasting in. What kind of double standard is this? Shame!
Haven’t you learnt your lesson with the Bretton Woods Institutions and the GEF? It is not worth the time and money to design another international financial institution that will be declared unfit for purpose 10-20 years down the line.
The GCF Board has prematurely ended its honeymoon with civil society with this ridiculous compromise. One can only hope it will soon realize just how valuable transparency and stakeholder goodwill is to the future performance and survival of the fund, and reverse this decision.