Four Steps to Build the SDGs into the Green Climate Fund

SDG CityThe Green Climate Fund (GCF) aims to promote the paradigm shift towards low-emission and climate-resilient development pathways, in the context of sustainable development, according to GCF’s “Governing Instrument,” its founding document. Such a commitment should be welcome news for the SDGs, and discussions on funding the Goals often point to the GCF’s potential. But has the GCF developed a consistent approach towards the SDGs, beyond references in social media and other communications?

Ahead of the GCF’s 19th Board meeting, from 27-29 February 2018, in the Republic of Korea, this article takes a closer look at this question, and suggests areas where the GCF can do better, against the background of CARE International’s work on promoting an integrated approach to the SDGs and climate action, and on engaging in the design of the GCF, and building civil society capacity to do so.SDG-goals_Goal-13 Climate Action

Suggestion 1: Use funding proposal templates to guide SDG integration

The SDGs, which were adopted in 2015, are not yet integrated into most of the funding proposals submitted to the GCF. Out of the 23 projects considered for funding at the 19th Board meeting, only six mention the SDGs, none of them making a link at the target level to nationally identified SDG priorities.

In the absence of such an analysis, the Independent Technical Assessment Panel, an expert body reviewing the funding proposals, has partially done this job for project proponents. In the latest round of reviews, it outlined the expected SDG benefits (at the Goal level) for four project proposals that did not mention the SDGs.

Part of the explanation for the lack of SDG references in project proposals may be that neither the GCF’s concept note template nor its full proposal template acknowledge the SDGs. A little awareness-raising through the GCF templates would not do any harm, nor conflict with country ownership.

Suggestion 2: Address SDGs in new investment criteria indicators

The GCF’s six investment criteria – the potential for impact, paradigm shift, sustainable development, and the needs of the recipient, country ownership, and 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, both to increase objectivity and to make evaluation quantifiable. However, this is 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, instead of benchmarks, a set of investment criteria indicators. These would range 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 spheres). Despite these efforts to raise the quality of investment criteria, on “sustainable development” the draft does not mention the SDGs.

Including the SDGs therein would facilitate a more integrated approach towards SDGs and climate action through steering proponents towards addressing this linkage. As more countries identify their national SDG priorities, it should be easier to reflect them in their GCF proposals. Within the new investment criteria indicators, the GCF Board can reference the SDGs and their localisation in developing countries as an important framework.

SDG-goals_Goal-17 Partnerships For The GoalsSuggestion 3: 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 peoplesenvironmental and social management, and gender equality and social inclusion (GESI). In their current forms, the three policies do not deal with the SDGs in a consistent way, so updating them , after several delays, would be an important outcome of the meeting.

Positively, the draft GESI Policy has the most comprehensive approach. It stipulates that the GCF “shall” develop specific targets and progress indicators aligned with the SDG framework, and that the annual performance reports submitted by Accredited Entities report against gender and social inclusion requirements, targets and goals in alignment with the SDGs. The GESI policy also requires the establishment of specific social impact and gender-performance indicators and gender-responsive data collection and measurement methods aligned with SDG 5 on the project and programme level. In stark contrast to this, however, the draft Environmental and Social Policy does not even mention the SDGs, although one of its intended goals is to “maximize environmental and social benefits.” The same is the case for the Indigenous Peoples Policy.

Suggestion 4: Help countries align GCF-related planning and SDGs through readiness support

Readiness support refers to building capacity in national governments and institutions to understand how the GCF works, in order to develop and implement effective programmes. Readiness support provided by the GCF is strongly requested by developing countries, according to the GCF Secretariat. 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 suggests strengthening the “alignment of climate change readiness with the broader developmental agenda,” including the SDGs, as an action for 2018. However, how the Secretariat would achieve this strengthening remains an open question. 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.

References: International Institute for Sustainable Development. 2018. Retrieved from

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