Days After $500 Million US Contribution, U.N. Green Climate Fund Increases Staff by 150%

By Patrick Goodenough | March 14, 2016 | 4:27am EDT
The co-chairs of the Green Climate Fund board, Zaheer Fakir of South Africa, left, and Ewen McDonald of Australia. (Photo: Ewen McDonald/Twitter)

( – The U.N. Green Climate Fund’s governing board has approved a proposal to hike the number of permanent staff at the body’s secretariat by 150 percent by the end of next year – from the current 56 positions to 140.

The decision, made at a meeting at the GCF’s headquarters in Songdo, South Korea last week, came days after the Obama administration confirmed payment of the first $500 million of a $3-billion, four-year pledge to the fund, whose aim is to help developing countries reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to phenomena blamed on climate change.

At the board meeting, the U.S. government formalized its pledge of $3 billion, the GCF said in a statement.

Some Republican lawmakers are incensed that the administration is going ahead with the funding without specific congressional authorization, warning that the move may be illegal. The State Department says it has determined that the funding is permissible.

The 24-member GCF board agreed the staff increase is necessary as the fund gears up to meet a goal of paying out $2.5 billion to projects around the world this year. The GCF claimed its secretariat has been understaffed, overstretched, and lacks experts in areas such as clean energy.

“The board has reached agreement this week on key decisions that help us deliver against our target of approving $2.5 billion in 2016,” one of its co-chairs, Ewen McDonald of Australia, said in a statement.

The GCF’s current resources – pledged or delivered contributions from more than 40 governments – amount to $10.3 billion, almost 30 percent of which is set to come from U.S. taxpayers.

By 2020 the initiative aims to raise $100 billion a year globally, from public and private sources.

The GCF’s administration budget for 2016, agreed at the last board meeting four months ago, is $29.157 million. The breakdown is $3.64 million for the board, $24.64 million for the secretariat, and $0.87 million for the trustee – the entity responsible for the receipt, investment and transfer of financial contributions. (The World Bank is serving as interim trustee.)

Of the $3.64 million budgeted for the board this year, $1.32 million is for board meetings and $22,500 is for travel for the two co-chairs and board representative.

The board plans three further meetings this year in various parts of the globe – in Songdo near Seoul in June, in Quito, Ecuador in October (a 9,400-mile journey from Seoul), and in December on the Pacific island of Samoa (a trip of 5,300-miles from Seoul).

Of the $24.64 million budgeted for the secretariat this year, $11.36 million is for staff salaries and costs, and $13.28 million is for “non-staff costs,” including travel, contractual services and communication costs.

In a proposal to the board calling for a funding increase, the GCF secretariat said its current budget of $29.157 million and its current staffing levels are modest when compared to other, similar global bodies.

It cited as examples the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, which manages $2.4 billion annually (compared to the GCF’s aspirational $2.5 billion) and has a budget of $288 million and a staff of 650; and the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization, which manages $1.3 billion annually and has a budget of $98 million and a staff of 204.

Other decisions taken by the GCF board at its meeting in Songdo included adoption of a strategic plan, and the accreditation of 13 new partners or “entities” – private and public institutions and organizations that are authorized to work with the GCF and implement its projects.

There are now a total of 33 such entities, ranging from U.N. agencies to national and regional development banks, and from private-sector financial institutions to non-profits.

Two of the newly-approved entities that gave rise to controversy in the run-up to the board meeting are two of the world’s largest banks by total assets – HSBC Holdings and Credit Agricole.

Environmental activists and other critics argued that the GCF should not be working with the banking giants on principle, since they have investments in the fossil fuel sector. The board went ahead and accredited the two banks, however.

Another decision taken at the meeting was an agreement to carry live webcasts of future board meetings. Civil society organizations have been pressing for livestreaming for three years, arguing for more transparency.

The meeting in South Korea brought together more than 200 participants, including board members and alternates from 37 countries, as well as an additional 130 observers.

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