The Indigenous World 2022: The Green Climate Fund (GCF)
The Green Climate Fund (GCF) is a climate finance mechanism established by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 2010 and operating since 2015. The GCF assists developing countries with climate adaptation and mitigation actions. It aims to catalyse a flow of climate finance to invest in low-emission and climate-resilient development pathways, supporting the UNFCCC and Paris Agreement goal of keeping average global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius. In doing so, the GCF can accept contributions from the developed country parties to the UNFCCC, as well as from public, non-public and alternative sources including, among others, countries not party to UNFCCC, entities and foundations. At COP 26 in November 2021, developed country parties made a new promise to make USD 100 billion a year in climate finance available by 2023. The deadline for their previous commitment to achieving this goal had passed in 2020. This renewed pledge constitutes an opportunity for the GCF as a key mechanism in channelling this funding.
As of 31 December2021, the GCF had funded a total of 190 projects with project investments amounting to USD 10 billion or a total of 37.2 billion including co-financing. The GCF estimates that these projects will help 612 million people increase their climate resilience and will contribute to preventing the emission of 2 billion tons of CO2 equivalent. Of the total 190 approved projects, micro and small projects constitute less than half (12% and 32%) of the portfolio, whereas medium and large projects form 39% and 17% of the portfolio, respectively. The size of a project is important given that bigger projects have a higher risk of negatively impacting nature and peoples. In terms of financial instruments, the projects’ investment portfolio comprises 44% loans, 42% grants, 6% equity, 6% result-based payments and 2% guarantees. Again, these figures reflect how climate finance, which is supposed to be channelled through grants based on the principle of Common But Differentiated Responsibilities (CBDR), is in reality provided largely in the form of loans.
The GCF’s policy and funding decisions are taken by 24 Board members. Observer organisations lobby and influence decisions through the Observer Network of CSOs, Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities led by two active observers, one from the developed and one from the developing countries. Indigenous representatives and support organisations are organised in the Indigenous Peoples Advocacy Team as well as taking an active part in the Observer Network. The southern active observer is currently an Indigenous representative.
In 2021, the GCF continued to emphasise project impact in the quantifiable term of CO2 equivalent emissions prevented and number of people building their general resilience. However, it is equally important to have data on the projects’ impact on the social, cultural, economic and ecological well-being of communities and Indigenous Peoples. The GCF Indigenous Peoples Policy, adopted in 2018, sets the basis for bridging those gaps and safeguarding human rights and the rights of Indigenous Peoples in GCF activities. The policy represents a high-level and rights-based benchmark for the GCF’s operation and climate finance at large. It stresses the importance of the environmental, social and cultural integrity of GCF-financed activities.
The Indigenous Peoples Policy is one of the most important advocacy achievements of the Indigenous Peoples Advocacy Team to date. The policy contributes not only to the safeguarding of human rights in the GCF but also more widely as a contribution towards implementing the Paris Agreement commitment of protecting human rights and the rights of Indigenous Peoples in climate action. Bearing this in mind, 2021 was another mixed year of frustrating realities and rhetoric while also offering some promising developments.
COVID-19 and the shrinking space for Indigenous Peoples and civil society participation
Like every other business across the world, GCF activities were partly paralysed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Ways of operating have changed; events and meetings have gone virtual. Projects have been pushed through with little or no consultation of Indigenous Peoples and civil society. In gross, Indigenous Peoples and civil society participation in the GCF has shrunk during the pandemic.
The GCF held three board meetings in 2021, all of which were held virtually. The Board approved 12 funding proposals.. Nine of these have a potential impact on Indigenous Peoples. Consultations with Indigenous Peoples about these projects on the ground and during Board meetings were challenging.
On top of the challenges of participating in and coordinating during virtual meetings, people might experience technical glitches, poor Internet connectivity, inconvenient time zones and difficulties in accessing “board rooms” at any time, on top of the usual English-only language barrier. Coordination amongst CSOs and Indigenous Peoples, and engagement with Board members, their advisers and accredited entities during Board meetings remained challenging. Apart from the two CSO active observers, no observers had access to the Zoom room of the Board meetings. The only way to follow Board meetings was via webstreaming. The meetings often turned into “executive sessions”, closed to observers and not webstreamed either.
In-fighting among Board members made it hard for the Board to work as “one Board”. This led to delays, executive sessions and inaction during meetings. Consequently, some decisions were pushed into “between Board meeting” decisions that left slim opportunities for CSOs to intervene. Overall, Indigenous Peoples and CSOs had to magnify their voices from the corner of a shrinking space for participation.
Rhetoric and realities of a paradigm shift
Besides the pandemic penalising Indigenous Peoples’ and civil society participation, the GCF’s investment criteria of “paradigm shift potential” remained somewhat ironic in the context of its funding proposals where, in reality, the “business as usual” approach prevailed. Projects presented to the Board failed to include distinct features and approaches around Indigenous science, world views and innovation. Rather, the Board repeated the old “development project” vs “climate project” debate. Indigenous Peoples and CSOs had to shout about the lack of consultation of Indigenous Peoples, women, youth and civil society at large. Interventions on project proposals focused, among other issues, on the failure to obtain Indigenous Peoples’ Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) or to ensure their ownership. And, often, the active observers were only called to make interventions after the projects had been approved by the Board – making such interventions moot and academic.
Rhetoric around compliance with the Indigenous Peoples Policy in funding proposals persisted. And yet the process of designing the projects failed in many cases to respect Indigenous Peoples’ rights, for instance by not considering how Indigenous Peoples’ innovations, worldviews and science can bring distinct potential to GCF projects. The Indigenous Peoples Policy requires entities and individuals engaged in GCF-funded activities to ensure full and effective participation and meaningful consultation leading to FPIC, not to hinder self-determined climate action or the integrity of Indigenous Peoples’ rights in matters related to them. This did not, however, occur in some funding proposals. In summary, the “paradigm shift” remains rather empty rhetoric for Indigenous Peoples.
A neglected facet of GCF projects
Given that climate change has been proved to be an anthropogenic phenomenon, the human face of the climate crisis should be at the centre of GCF projects. Human beings are agents of change. The “software” of change rests on human values and the “hardware” runs only if the software is well-established. Indigenous Peoples’ values, lifeways, world views and knowledge are crucial “software” in climate action on the ground but these factors are still undermined.
Indeed, one of the questions unpacked in the context of “fundable projects” and “climate rationale” was the role of Indigenous Peoples’ knowledge in climate action. From Indigenous Peoples’ perspective, knowledge does not come from a vacuum, nor from an empty space or a laboratory or university. Their knowledge is rooted in land, territories and resources. It is passed down by their elders to the younger generations in various ways and forms such as rituals, folklore, dances, songs and festivities. Such practices, knowledge and technologies, grounded in communities, constitute some of the most potent climate solutions. And yet these are still by and large neglected in climate finance.
Developments amidst the pandemic
In 2021, the GCF kicked off a pending task of institutionalising its Indigenous Peoples Advisory Group (IPAG). The Indigenous Peoples Policy requires that the GCF establish the IPAG in order to enhance coordination between the GCF, accredited entities and executing entities, states and Indigenous Peoples. On that basis, the GCF announced a call for nominations of IPAG members from the regions.
The GCF also started scoping for the development of the GCF Environmental and Social Safeguards (ESS), including a call for public inputs. The ESS applied by the GCF to date (as an interim) are the Performance Standards of the International Finance Corporation. The Secretariat also announced calls for public inputs on other matters including sectoral guides on agriculture and food security, and cities, buildings and urban systems, respectively. Civil society and Indigenous Peoples responded to these calls and gave their input.
The GCF indicated a willingness to continue the REDD+ Results-Based Payment Program after funding for the pilot phase was exhausted in 2020. It made a call for public inputs while also undertaking a review with the objective of continuing the Results-Based Payment program.
Finally, disregarding for a moment the limited consultation with Indigenous Peoples and civil society, the approval of a total of 12 funding proposals in 2021 is a promising sign with regard to international climate finance flow. The accreditation portfolio of now a total of 113 entities increasingly shows a widening of GCF action. Thirty-two of these are categorised as projects with high negative risk (Category A). On the other hand, national direct access entities (DAEs) comprise 51% of the accreditation portfolio, which is also a promising step although only if actual climate finance flows directly to countries in need through these.
Noteworthy initiatives taken by Indigenous Peoples in 2021
Parties to the UNFCCC finalised the Paris Rulebook and made a new finance pledge during COP 26 in Glasgow. Being the largest climate finance mechanism, the GCF is key in implementing this UNFCCC decision on finance mobilisation. In line with this, the GCF project portfolio is increasing every year.
In light of this, it is crucial to see how the GCF has been implementing its own Indigenous Peoples Policy and the Paris Agreement preamble language on human rights and the rights of Indigenous Peoples. Data on GCF projects being implemented in Indigenous Peoples’ territories and information about project impact on Indigenous Peoples are important to safeguard human and Indigenous Peoples’ rights. In this context, the Tebtebba Foundation launched an “Indigenous Peoples Tracker on GCF Projects” in 2021. This tool aims to establish a baseline of information on and analysis of GCF-approved projects potentially impacting Indigenous Peoples positively or negatively. The tracker shows that 70 out of a total of 190 projects approved as of 31 December 2021 have a potential impact on Indigenous Peoples. Those 70 projects are approved across 50 countries.
Tebtebba Foundation also ran a webinar series about the GCF in 2021 to raise awareness among and build the capacity of Indigenous Peoples. In partnership with the International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA), the Nepal Federation of Indigenous Nationalities (NEFIN) organised national awareness training workshops with Indigenous Peoples in Nepal. NEFIN held coordination calls and meetings with the accredited entities in the country. These initiatives were helpful for Indigenous Peoples to be able to understand, follow the GCF and secure their rights in the GCF projects.
In Peru, Indigenous Peoples’ organisations developed recommendations and a set of minimum standards, validated by their communities, for engagement in national GCF processes. These were presented to the Ministry of Economy and Finance (Peru’s national designated authority for the GCF), the Ministry of Environment and relevant accredited entities with the aim of institutionalising a formal permanent space for coordination and consultation of Indigenous Peoples in 2022.
These bottom-up initiatives taken by Indigenous Peoples in 2021 constitute important precedents that can be replicated by Indigenous Peoples, national designated authorities and accredited entities in other countries. Indeed, scaling-up of such activities would serve to strengthen the legitimacy and efficiency of the GCF as well as the all-important safeguarding of Indigenous Peoples’ rights in climate action.
To progress towards facilitating climate actions in respect of human rights and the rights of Indigenous Peoples, the GCF must take the following steps:
- Formalise and operationalise the IPAG.
- Support Indigenous Peoples-friendly and self-determined climate projects.
- Adhere to FPIC and comply with the Indigenous Peoples Policy in its entirety in GCF activities, including in the development of funding proposals.
- Promote a real paradigm shift by bringing Indigenous Peoples’ perspectives, worldviews, innovations, knowledge and contributions into climate action.
- Develop and implement strong environmental and social safeguards.
- Monitor and strengthen effective implementation of the Indigenous Peoples Policy.
Stefan Thorsell is Climate Adviser at the International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA). He engages in international climate advocacy at the UNFCCC and the GCF in collaboration with Indigenous Peoples’ representatives. He has contributed to publications on Indigenous Peoples’ rights in climate action and published research on the peace process in Colombia.
This article is part of the 36th edition of The Indigenous World, a yearly overview produced by IWGIA that serves to document and report on the developments Indigenous Peoples have experienced. Find The Indigenous World 2022 in full here
Notes and references
 Governing Instrument of the GCF: Accessed 28 January 2021: https://www.greenclimate.fund/sites/default/files/document/governing-instrument.pdf.
 The Indigenous World 2019. International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs. Accessed 31 January 2022:
 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Accessed 21 January 2022: https://unfccc.int/sites/default/files/english_paris_agreement.pdf.
 Green Climate Fund. The IP Policy is available in English and Spanish on the GCF website. Accessed 2 February 2022. GCF IP Policy: https://www.greenclimate.fund/sites/default/files/document/ip-policy.pdf. Para 81, Page 19.
 Green Climate Fund. The call for nominations is available on the GCF website. Accessed 27 January 2022: https://www.greenclimate.fund/sites/default/files/document/call-nominations-indigenous-peoples-advisory-group_1.pdf.
 According to UNFCCC, REDD+ is a framework created by the UNFCCC Conference of the Parties (COP) to guide activities in the forest sector that reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation and ensure the sustainable management of forests and the conservation and enhancement of forest carbon stocks in developing countries.
 The Autonomous Territorial Government of the Wampis Nation (GTANW), the National Organisation of Indigenous Women (ONAMIAP), the Quechua Indigenous Federation of Pastaza (FEDIQUEP), the San Pablo de Tipishca Conservation Association (ACODECOSPAT), the Kichwa Organisation of Alto Tigre Peru-Ecuador Border (OPIKAFPE) and the Achuar Federation of Corrientes (FECONACOR) in collaboration with the International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA) and Peru Equidad Centre for Public Policy and Human Rights.