Support for Large Hydro, Delay on Drought Adaptation Makes Green Climate Fund a ‘Laughing Stock’
Large hydro scored a big win and drought adaptation for Ethiopia was set back at last week’s meeting of the Green Climate Fund board in Songdo, South Korea.
The board approved eight projects worth US$755 million, including a controversial, $50-million refurbishment of a Soviet-era hydro dam in Tajikistan and $265 million for other renewable energy projects across the developing world. The full list of approvals included three large hydro projects, solar-powered irrigation in tribal areas in India, farming in Morocco, and renewable energy in Europe, Climate Home reports.
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But the United States, Canada, Switzerland, Sweden, Germany, and Japan postponed a decision on a $100-million project to support farmers and pastoralists in Ethiopia, a move that imperiled the GCF’s credibility among recipient countries.
“The bid, put forward by the Ethiopian government and UN Development Programme (UNDP), involved a suite of measures to prepare people, particularly women, for water scarcity,” writes Deputy Editor Megan Darby. “Critics questioned whether the five-year program was truly focused on adapting to climate change, as opposed to general development. Its defenders acknowledged some weaknesses but argued Ethiopia was being held to a tougher standard than other, also imperfect, proposals.”
In the end, “delegates agreed the board needed to clarify funding criteria at the next meeting in July, to avoid making policy decisions on the fly,” Darby notes. But that didn’t sit well with Congolese board member Tosi Mpanu Mpanu.
“They are saying the GCF board is a laughing stock, they are seeing people to go the extra mile and when we do it is still not good enough,” he told the meeting. “I really want to encourage people to join the ambition club and do some good work which is accepted by the board.”
Mpanu Mpanu withdrew the comment after a German delegate objected to the term “laughing stock”.
But meeting observers interpreted the result as “an ideological preference for large-scale infrastructure projects, rather than ones that build resilience within communities,” Climate Home notes.
“This is the kind of thing the GCF needs to fund; it is part of the reason we advocated for the GCF to be created in the first place,” Oxfam US climate finance specialist Annaka Peterson told Climate Home. The meeting result shows “a clear bias against projects focused on people. They are okay with making bridges climate-proof, but not poor communities.”
“All #GCFund projects have flaws (or are completely misguided eg Tajikistan hydro). Why are rich countries picking on this one in particular?” tweeted Brandon Wu of Action Aid USA. “Snarky remark by some in the @GCFund observer room: Maybe if Ethiopia proposed a dam instead of integrated community adaptation support?” agreed Liane Schalatek of the Heinrich Böll Institute.
In the lead-up to the meeting, Climate Home carried an analysis by International Rivers campaigner Joshua Klemm and Florencia Ortúzar of San Francisco-based AIDA, questioning the use of GCF funds for a new generation of big dams.
“Large hydro is a non-innovative, last-century technology with no place at the GCF, whose mandate is to promote a paradigm shift toward low-emission and climate-resilient sustainable development,” they wrote. Not only does large hydro—a fully mature technology—lack any potential to transfer new technologies, it’s also a bad bet for reducing greenhouse gas emissions or helping countries adapt to a warming world.”
They warned that large hydro reservoirs emit large volumes of climate-busting methane, the dams themselves are vulnerable to drought, and their placement can make climate-driven extreme weather more hazardous for people living downstream.
“Many countries in the global South are already alarmingly over-dependent on climate-vulnerable hydropower, making them especially prone to energy crises,” Klemm and Ortúzar wrote. “These countries urgently need to diversify their energy mix in order to improve their resilience to climate change.”