More than 150 environmental and social justice organizations have urged the Green Climate Fund (GCF) to adopt an “exclusion list” as part of its policies to ensure that environmental, social, gender and financial safeguards and protection – are taken up as a practice by several international development and financial institutions. In the run-up to the last GCF Board meeting that took place in Songdo, Republic of Korea, on the 18-21 May, the call for a GCF exclusion list got wider and louder.
The Green Climate Fund – a financial institution within the framework of the UNFCCC, set up to support projects, programmes, policies and other activities on climate adaptation and mitigation in developing countries – is planned to be a crucial source of climate finance in the years to come. The Fund’s mandate to “promote the paradigm shift towards low-emission and climate-resilient development pathways” should be read with the highest ambition to deliver mitigation and adaptation effectively.
Yet such effective climate response will greatly depend on the GCF’s capacity to drive financial investment to sustainable, clean energy projects that build low-carbon development pathways and address the needs of the most vulnerable people in developing countries, including the reassurance that harmful projects will be excluded from its list of beneficiaries.
It’s been far too often the case that climate and development finance supports harmful energy projects under a narrative of “lower carbon” energy, “alternative fuels” or switching to “lower emissions” fuels, when in fact they still increase global GHG emissions and have severe environmental and economic impacts to local communities.
Waste for example – including chemical pesticides, toxic-laden plastics, and other hazardous waste –is increasingly being burned as an ‘alternative’ to fossil fuels by polluting industries such as cement kilns, biomass plants, and coal power plants. As conventional fossil fuels costs rise, these powerful industries have identified important economic incentives for burning waste and promote it as a climate-friendly option. Waste is often cheaper than traditional fuels –in fact, its producers are used to having to pay for its disposal, and industries further benefit from lax or non-existent regulation of toxic pollution from burning waste.
The consequences of these misguided climate policies are devastating. The latest field research carried out by GAIA and Community Environmental Monitoring – Concrete Troubles – found excessive toxic emissions in dust sample analysis taken from the surroundings of cement plants burning waste in India. The report also highlighted the poor regulatory mechanism, which allowed such a situation to persist for years. Resulting pollution from burning waste is felt first and worst in communities that neighbour the cement kilns and waste-powered energy plants, where respiratory illness, skin disease, crop loss, and deadly industrial accidents have taken their toll.
The Green Climate Fund should not be feeding this trend, and should instead commit to support real clean energy and resource efficiency. The mandate provided by the Governing Instrument for the GCF and the principles of the UNFCCC are clear: for the Green Climate Fund to have transformational impact, it should not promote “business-as-usual” energy solutions in the name of providing energy access for all – an important goal that can and must be met through clean, community-based and sustainable energy solutions.
Unfortunately, the Green Climate Fund Board in its last meeting in Songdo did not respond to the civil society demands about the development of an ‘exclusion list’ and it’s yet to be seen what criteria will apply to disburse funds. Since the Fund has just started operations, there is still plenty of time for the Board to reconsider its position and act on the Fund’s best interest, which would be protecting its reputation and credibility, and most importantly, ensuring that its funds reach those who need it the most while promoting truly sustainable climate mitigation initiatives.