The Green Climate Fund: Can it work for the grassroots?

I met Liane Schalatek, Associate Director for the Heinrich Böll Foundation North America,early in the life of Climate Wise Women.  On a chilly afternoon in a D.C. coffee shop, I asked Liane about the opportunities for small grants for grassroots women’s groups in the Global South.  Her response did not leave me encouraged.


Liane, however, is not discouraged.  She is an active civil society observer to the Green Climate Fund (GCF), the first multi-billion-dollar international fund to mandate a consideration of gender from the outset of its operations.   The GCF is a key financial mechanism to support the efforts of developing countries in response to the challenge of climate change under the Paris Agreement.  In this role, Liane has been a tireless advocate for marginalized groups, women, indigenous people and youth, pushing for new channels to deliver GFC funding assistance to the grassroots.

 When I ask her for an update on our long-ago conversation, Liane tells me, “We have made some incremental progress with some policies, but the larger picture has changed too little.  The same actors who have failed to ensure that funding reaches local groups are the key implementers in GCF – the big multi-lateral development banks and UN agencies.”  Direct access entities, domestic organizations, including non-governmental groups, are still way behind in getting their own project proposals considered and approved.

 “What makes things difficult,” Liane explains, “is that the accreditation process is very rigorous – there are lots of requirements in terms of policy documents, institutional fiduciary guidelines, auditing procedures, etc. The existence of written policies is taken as proof of due diligence and is weighted more than a track record in delivering results. This approach disadvantages small national and local entities.”   One avenue for grassroots groups to access funding is to align with already accredited groups rather than spend the time and energy working towards unlikely direct accreditation with the GCF.

Liane says that skepticism still exists in many developed countries around community-based and grassroots solutions as successful strategies for GCF investment.  She says that many GCF board members tend to assume that larger projects and programs are better by equating greater financial leverage with more effective climate financing.  Networks of civil society groups, including an increasing number of women’s groups from developing countries, now provide some critical input on project proposals up for approval before Board meetings.  More grassroots participation is essential to persuade the Board to consider alternative funding priorities and implementation strategies that can bring about real transformational shifts towards low-carbon and climate resilient development in the developing world.

 Liane’s dedicated work with civil society colleagues has insured that that the GCF has a gender policy mandating a project-level gender analysis and action plan for every proposal under consideration by the GCF.  All entities that are seeking accreditation must also show that they, too, have gender and climate change policies, which has a been a challenge for many private sector entities wanting to work with the GCF.  On the financing side, Liane and civil society colleagues have lobbied the Board for consideration of full cost financing for projects, which is much more sustainable for community-based projects, over solely relying on incremental costing.

 What can civil society groups do?  “Some of the current opportunities to influence and claim a place at the decision-making table will go away if they are not taken,” says Liane, pointing out the urgency for more groups to get involved as observers to the GCF and as monitors of GCF funding implementation.  “At the international level, there must be engagement on climate finance provision and specific GCF policies and approaches.   Nationally, advocates need to apply pressure on the government contact points, liaising with climate funds such as the GCF to ensure that national funding priorities include those in the best interests of local groups and grassroots organizations, including women’s groups. Finally, get involved.  Too few groups are engaged.  Civil society needs to master an understanding of how the fund works and become familiar with the vocabulary of climate finance, the GFC financial instruments and approaches.”

 On October 23, the GCF approved $1.04 billion in new grants and loans for 19 projects and programs.  Only a minority of the recipients, representing a tiny percentage of the overall amount, included funding approaches for the direct benefit of grassroots groups and local communities.




Tracy Mann