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Climate finance: investing in our collective future

The spiritual grandchild of the Rio Earth Summit agreement of 23 years ago, the universal climate agreement (UCA), is the world's best chance to limit global temperature increase to two degrees Celsius. The universal hope is that it will be adopted at the global climate change summit in Paris, France, in December 2015. The UCA is important because it will record different countries’ commitments to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions, and, this time around, developing countries, too, will make commitments to reduce their emissions—and they are looking for how to fund the actions they will need to take.

How much money is needed by developing countries? Estimates are around US$ 450 billion per year from 2020 on: US$ 350 billion for reduced emissions and US$ 100 billion for adapting to the impacts of climate change. Some of this money will be provided by countries themselves. But to reach their emission reduction targets, a significant fraction will also need to come from developed countries in the form of official climate finance (OCF). These numbers may sound overwhelming, but context is paramount—they should be compared to net inflows of debt and equity into developing countries, which are estimated to be above US$ 1.2 trillion per year.

At the 2010 Climate Change Conference in Cancun, Mexico, the global community responded to developing countries’ financing needs by creating the Green Climate Fund (GCF). The GCF groups 196 sovereign states that are Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), and is the only multilateral financing institution in the world whose sole mission is to serve the UNFCCC’s climate objective. Its purpose is to promote a radical paradigm shift towards low emission and climate-resilient investments in developing countries.

How is the GCF expected to do this? By providing developing countries with direct financing for climate investments and by leveraging other financing, including private investors and financial markets. Funding will be concessional, and one of the GCF's greatest innovations is its risk-bearing capacity, allowing it to bear more risk and thus leverage other less risky financing, notably from the private sector.

A lot of work has been done since the GCF’s inauguration in Songdo, in the Republic of Korea, in December 2013, where it is headquartered. It is now open for business and has a growing network of more than 120 developing country focal points engaged with the Fund. Developing countries are central in the funding process and the GCF’s own Board is structured to ensure a balanced representation from developed and developing countries—a 50:50 ratio.

In the year since its launch, the GCF has already secured US$ 10 billion equivalent in financial pledges from 33 countries, including from developing countries. It continues to raise money on an ongoing basis. A significant portion of its pledges have already been converted into usable resources, and the Fund is ready to start investing in climate-sensitive projects and programmes.

How will the GCF operate? Through a network of accredited partners, trusted entities that will work on its behalf during the project cycle. These may include local institutions in the countries themselves, regional entities, private banks and funds, nongovernmental organizations and international organizations. The GCF’s accredited partners will deploy its resources through a variety of financial instruments (concessional loans, subordinated debt, equity, guarantees and grants) and monitor project impacts. The process to build the network of partner entities is ongoing, with applications received from all over the world, and some institutions already accredited.

To accelerate private sector investment in low-emission, climate-resilient activities, the GCF’s Private Sector Facility will work hand in hand with international businesses, capital markets and the local private sector in developing countries. Its risk-bearing capacity will enable the Fund to support private investments in, for example, energy efficiency, forest protection and reforestation, deployment of climate-related insurance products, adaptive agricultural methods in the face of desertification and other similar projects.

At the Paris Climate Change Summit later this year, the world expects member States to take some important decisions concerning climate finance. Total OCF commitments to date are a good start but only a fraction of what is needed to achieve the world’s climate change objective. In order to succeed, countries must agree to set in place predictable, long-term flows of OCF up to and beyond 2020, including quantities significantly larger than the initial pledges made to the GCF to date. The line of argument for increasing investments is simple—either we pay now or pay later and face the risk of significant development setbacks for all of humanity.

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