By Chris Lang
In August 2020, the Green Climate Fund approved US$28.2 million for “results-based” funding to Colombia, for the period 2015 to 2016. In the presentation of the proposed REDD payments, the Green Climate Fund Secretariat acknowledged that deforestation in Colombia, particularly in the Amazon, had increased since the Peace Agreement in 2016.
The board discussion about Colombia’s proposal was strange. Norway, Germany, UK, USA, and Japan all pointed out that Colombia’s deforestation rate had soared in 2017 and 2018. Norway’s board member, Hans Olav Ibrekk, pointed out problems with the Green Climate Fund’s scorecard, used to assess potential REDD+ projects. He pointed out the problems with considering Colombia as a high forest cover low deforestation country. And as Germany’s board member, Heike Henn, points out, there is no UNFCCC guidance on high forest cover low deforestation – so it’s all pretty much a guessing game.
Ibrekk also suggested the payment would be better outside the GCF’s REDD+ pilot programme. Now there’s an idea. No counterfactual story about what would have happened in the absence of REDD, no carbon credits, and no pretence that keeping rainforests standing allows us to continue burning fossil fuels.
The following is the entire board discussion about Colombia’s REDD+ “results-based payments” for 2015 to 2016. It’s long, repetitive, and pretty dull. But it’s also quite extraordinary. Several board members point out that this is not a results-based payment. Only one board member mentions Indigenous Peoples. And only the CSO Observer raises the issue of Indigenous Peoples’ rights. The Secretariat produced a list of conditions including that the decision to fund Colombia would not set any sort of precedent. That’s pretty much an admission that Colombia’s proposal should not really have been funded. Yet the board agreed to fund it anyway.
The board discussion: Day one
After the Secretariat’s introduction of the item, the co-chair of the Green Climate Fund’s Board, Sue Szabo of Global Affairs Canada, suspended consideration of Colombia’s proposal until the next day:
Since the technical session for funding proposals was done and these funding proposals were discussed it became very clear that there are serious board member concerns on this item.
Now, we have just gone through FP129 [Afghanistan Rural Energy Market Transformation Initiative] where we had discussions on both material concerns as well as procedural issues. I stand in the hands of the board, but I will note that we are likely to have a similar discussion as with the previous item. I hope that the fact that the co-chair’s suggested process and the fact that we have come back on that process and the fact that we have come back on that process with the written changes as requested has created confidence on the part of the board members in this virtual setting that indeed we have processes that we can use in order to try to move the item forward.
In that respect, it is very clear to the co-chairs that this item is not yet ready to be moved forward because of the serious concerns. We could of course outline some of those concerns that you would have already heard during the technical sessions, but we also have a number of other serious funding proposals that are still in front of us that we wish to address at this point, and of course bring back FP129 as we have promised.
I therefore would like to suggest that what we do is suspend this item having just had the review of the item on the part of the secretariat and that we suspend this item and we come back allowing the same sort of process to take place as we usually do with difficult items that there are concerns that are raised that board members can consult constituencies and consult in this period and that we bring this item back. At this point, it would be first thing tomorrow morning in order that we use the time that we have well and we go on to some of the other funding proposals where prior consultations have indicated that we will be able to move forward in a more expeditious fashion.
I put that forward as an option to the board that we suspend the consideration now of FP134 and that again hopefully your confidence has been built in terms of the recommendations of the co-chairs on these items and that we bring this item back first thing tomorrow morning. Seeing no objections to that proposal I will suspend the consideration of funding proposal 134 and I turn it over to my co-chair to address funding proposal 135.
The board discussion: Day two
The following day, co-chair Nauman Bashir Bhatti, of the Embassy of Pakistan in Belgium, introduced Colombia’s proposal FP134 to the board once again:
When this item was open on day two of the meeting, some questions from the board members regarding FP134 required further consultations. Following consultations, new conditions and covenants have been shared with the board in advance of this session. I would like to request the secretariat to now share the conditions onto the screen in the meeting now.
The conditions were displayed onscreen while the board discussed Colombia’s proposal. The following is a transcript of the conditions:
DRAFT DECISION B.26/XX1
Agenda item 11: Consideration of funding proposals (FP134)
(a) Further approves fudning proposal 134 for the amounts of USD 28,208,123, submitted by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, subject to the conditions set out in document GCF/B.26/02/Add.18 and in the respective term sheet set out in document GCF/B.26/02/Add.19;
(b) Takes note of the absence of an internationally agreed definition on high forest cover low deforestation (HFLD) countries;
(c) Also takes note of the recommendation by the iTAP and the Secretariat in relation to funding proposal 134 to consider the specific circumstances of Colombia as HFLD country for the purpose of the pilot programme for REDD+ results-based payments;
(d) Decides that the approval of the funding proposal 134 does not set a precedent for future proposals that may request payments from the GCF for REDD+ results under the Pilot programme nor prejudges any future decisions of the board on the establishment or form of a future REDD+ RBP programme.
To be included in the Annex of List of conditions and recommendations
FP number Proposed conditions / covenants FP 134
Inclusion of the following covenants in the FAA:
(a) The accredited entity shall require under the RBP Transfer Agreement and monitor that:
(i) The hose country will reduce emissions from deforestation in a way that reverts 3,174,672.3 tCO2e surplus emissions generated in the period covering years 2013 to 2017 inclusive, and demonstrates reductions of up to 20 Mio tCO2e up until the end of the implementation period of the funded activity, in order to avoid compromising REDD+ RBP commitments or agreements in Colombia. The reverted volume will be discounted from the baseline of potential GCF REDD+ results-based payments in subsquent periods; and
(ii) The host country will enhance the environmental integrity of results, including through increasing future accuracy of results and more ambitious measures included in the FREL and the updated NDC to be submitted to the UNFCCC, while operationalizing the RENARE as a functional, transparent and comprehensive registry system that incorporates accounting at different scales, including private sector initiatives.
(b) The accredited entity shall report on and demonstrate progress in the implementation of the abovementioned conditions under the APRs.
Satisfaction of the following condition prior to disbursement under the FAA:
(a) Prior to the disbursement under the FAA, the accredited entity shall provide, in form and substance satisfactory to the GCF Secretariat, a definition of the condition above in (a)(i) “in order to avoid compromising REDD+ RBP commitments or agreements in Colombia”. This definition and implications for emission reductions shall have been made in agreement with the respective partners of such commitments or agreements with the first quarter of 2021.
Mexico’s board member, Brenda Ciuk Cano from the Ministry of Finance and Public Credit, was first to speak:
Thank you co-chair. Since this is my first intervention in the board, and it’s also my first session as a board member, there was a recent appointment by the government of Mexico, I would like to send my regards to the board and alternate members, as well as the Secretariat, and I hope I can join personally in the close future.
Also, I would like to congratulate the Secretariat for all the work in making possible this first virtual meeting for the Fund and as well as in funding proposals that have been presented throughout these days that we have been in the board meeting.
On behalf of our constituency we are ready to approve this project. We recognise a significant effort that Colombia has undertaken to address deforestation in light of the challenging post conflict scenarios. The approval of this proposal will provide significant learning experience to the pilot programme and will send a positive signal to other REDD+ countries.
We know that some concerns have been expressed by some board members, and we think that the risk of going beyond the terms of reference of the pilot programme could be seen as a negative precedent to the REDD+ countries. We would like to stress that the iTAP recommended this project proposal for approval and because it meets all the conditions on the terms of reference that the pilot programme has already established and it is in line with the UNFCCC.
Looking forward, I think it’s important to work closely with the Secretariat on the future projects in order to avoid additional conditionalities that importantly change the approval conditions, while creating a precedent which have a conflict with other projects in the pipeline.
Additionally, environmental integrity is key to any GCF funded programme and we note that Colombia is actively addressing this matter and it has REDD+ actions and policies in a context of full transparency in Colombia. So we’re glad to see that we have sorted these problems out but we just want to know that for future projects. Thank you.
Hans Olav Ibrekk from Norway’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs spoke next:
Thank you Nauman. I’m sorry for I’m going to be a little bit longer, er, longish in my statement here today. First I would like to say as is the normal practice in the board, I expect that my statement will be included in the report of the meeting.
Norway would like to commend Colombia’s ambitions and actions to reduce deforestation. The reduction in deforestation recorded in 2019 is promising and is a remarkable achievement. We applaud Colombia’s international leadership in the fight against tropical deforestation and climate change and is proud of our partnership with Colombia.
FP134 has been extensively discussed in advance of this meeting. The proposed activities are important but in our view this could have been funded by the GCF outside of the REDD+ pilot programme.
Our key concerns with FP134 are related to the environmental integrity of the results to be rewarded, a prerequisite for the success of GCF’s REDD+ pilot. When we approved the REDD+ scorecard at B.18 we made it clear that we had significant reservations regarding the weaknesses related to the environmental criteria of the scorecard. Our experience is that there are several weaknesses both in the scorecard itself and in the application of the scorecard. And as anticipated the most common we have seen across other funding proposals is in the integrity of reference levels.
To be specific on FP134 we are not comfortable with the way the scorecard has been interpreted in the assessment process. This includes the application of the definition of a high forest cover low deforestation country and the consideration of net negative results across the years covered by the GCF REDD+ pilot funding proposal.
We understand that there has been considerable discussions on the proposal to identify acceptable conditions that would ensure an acceptable level of environmental integrity. Whilst we appreciate these efforts we cannot see that the conditions proposed achieve this. Rather they create uncertainty for existing and future REDD+ partnerships with Colombia. All else equal and despite its shortcomings in important respects we would have been more comfortable if the proposal was funded without the conditions.
Summing up, we are impressed with Colombia’s efforts and the proposed project activities to be funded. We have concerns regarding how the GCF applies the scorecard and we are uncomfortable with the proposed conditions. We would therefore like to stress that this funding proposal and the conditions to it does not in any way set precedents for the future as it also is stated in the draft decision.
Colleagues, Colombia is at a crucial point where they have expressed high ambitions for the future and global leadership through a commitment to independent third party assessment of emissions and we look forward to continue our ambitious partnership with Colombia to reduce deforestation. With this statement duly recorded and in line with our focus on a one board approach, it is Norway’s position that we will not stand in the way for approval of funding to FP134. Thank you.
Next up is Germany’s board member, Heike Henn of the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development:
Thank you very much, co-chair. To start with I would like to highlight the trusted, fruitful and deeply engaged cooperation of Germany alongside Norway and the UK with Colombia, under the BioCarbon Fund, the REDD Early Movers Programme, and the Joint Declaration of Intent. And we would like to take the occasion and commend Colombia’s ambitions to fight against deforestation and climate change.
We encourage the accredited entity to develop further practical measures to ensure closer alignment and to harvest synergies with the before-mentioned initiatives.
Regarding the specific proposal, first, echoing also what Hans Olaf has said partially, according to the scorecard of the GCF, the adjustment of the forest reference emission level provided by the project proponent as a high forest low deforestation country requires consistently maintaining low deforestation rate. Considering the significant rise in the deforestation in Colombia in 2017 and 2018, we are hence concerned about the iTAP and the Secretariat assessment that Colombia is regarded as an HFLD country.
Since the UNFCCC does not provide guidance on the application of the HFLD concept, we see the need to define objective criteria on what constitutes HFLD, specifically in the context of a wider scorecard revision. This should include defining quantitative national thresholds of forest cover, deforestation rate, and forest reference emission level adjustment, that reflect the principles of environmental integrity, ambition raising, and transformative capacity.
Second, given the significant rise in deforestation just mentioned, we believe that it is crucial that sufficient measures are taken beyond the proposal to compensate for reversals that have already taken place after the eligibility period.
Also looking at the investment criteria of the GCF it is very important that permanence of the deforestation emission reductions is ensured.
For us, this means that surplus emissions generated in the period covering years 2013 to 2017 including compared to the historic average reference emission level need to be reverted. For us, this proposal makes it very clear that there are significant gaps and weaknesses in the current REDD+ scorecard that endanger to undermine the environmental integrity of results-based payments.
This includes specifically the lack of a defition of the HFLD concept as well as a precise guidance on the reference period and the length of the reference period. We hence urge that the review of the pilot phase and the REDD+ scorecard address the different weaknesses in order to avoid reputational damages.
For this proposal we thank the FAO, Colombia, and the Secretariat for the constructive engagement over the past days and are ready to approve the project based upon the agreed upon conditions circulated to the board. Thank you.
And then it’s the UK’s Josceline Wheatley of the Department for International Development, who appeared to have had difficulty setting up his video camera:
Thanks very much. I’m aware of the time, but I need to make the following brief statement for the record, alongside our support for approval of FP134.
First, Colombia is an important partner for the UK and our shared green growth ambitions as marked by the recent first anniversary of the UK-Colombia partnership for sustainable growth, as well as the Joint Declaration of Intent on REDD+ in partnership with Germany and Norway.
Second, we acknowledge Colombia’s efforts to reduce deforestation and forest degradation within a challenging context. We particularly appreciate the intent outlined in the proposal to invest GCF resources to build upon the ambitious work undertaken through the Vision Amazonia Programme.
Third, we do however have some concerns regarding the environmental integrity of the results claimed under the proposal, noting for example the high deforestation rates in subsequent years. We believe the proposed conditions help to address those concerns and help to demonstrate Colombia’s commitment to increase ambition.
Fourth, and finally, we note the Secretariat’s invitation to recall the objective of this pilot window is to learn lessons and gather experiences on REDD+. We identify several strengths and challenges associated with this proposal that should be reflected upon in this learning process. We strongly encourage GCF Secretariat to propose to the Board an approach that will facilitate reflection and learning and to consider how to bring these considerations to bear in the event of future REDD+ options under the GCF. Over.
He was followed by the US board member, Mathew Haarsager of the Department of the Treasury:
Thank you Nauman. The US would like to recognise that Colombia continues demonstrate leadership in addressing land use emissions and exploring innovative ways to address tropical deforestation. And the US is pleased to support these efforts through bilateral and multi-donor programmes.
We look forward to the stepwise improvement of Colombia’s REDD+ efforts, particularly as it finalises its national forest reference emissions level. REDD+ programmes are designed to holistically address deforestation and improve the rate of avoided deforestation and associated reduced emissions over time. Therefore we think Colombia should embark on strong efforts to assess the uptick in deforestation in 2017, which was significant, and develop measures to address further increases in deforestation.
Overall we can support approval of Colombia’s proposal, noting the stepwise improvements proposed, and that the country is improving in efforts to improve its MRV systems, safeguards and overall investment into REDD+ and land use mitigation programmes.
And then it’s Japan’s board member, Masahiro Takasugi of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who explains the problem of increased deforestation and then agrees to Colombia’s proposed “results-based” funding proposal anyway:
Thank you co-chair, and Japan appreciates the REDD+ achievement between 2015 and 2016 Colombia. But in 2017 and 2018 the deforestation has increased and it [inaudible] the appearance of the risk of reversals in the forest sector.
So from the perspective of the environmental integrity Japan supports this funding proposal 134 with the revised conditions, so the current conditions. Thank you.
The next board member to speak is Ecuador’s Walter Schuldt, of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs:
Thank you Nauman and thank you to everyone else. We first of all want to appreciate all the efforts made by the proponent entity, the government of Colombia, and all the members of the board that had some issues concerned of this proposal.
We believe that this proposal is a very good one, we strongly support it. We are satisfied also to see that this proposal has the support of the Mesa Regional Amazónica, a representation of a wide range of Indigenous groups in the Amazon region.
And the proposal, the review and accommodation of iTAP, Colombia has been ready to accept a number of conditions, adjustments, even though some of them went beyond the [inaudible] requirements. So on that point we are also very, very strongly asserting that they should not set a precedent for future projects under REDD+. Colombia with respect to the emission reductions, I think Colombia has made very strong, important efforts [inaudible] recognised by the pilot programme because its objective is to recognise efforts in emissions reductions of developing countries. These payments will help continue the investments and policies to effectively address underlying drivers of deforestation considered [inaudible] has been established.
A failure to recognise payments for reductions achieved in the past could set a negative precedent for countries in similar conditions, and would ignore the fact that deforestation responds to socio-economic processes [inaudible] circumstances of each country with the implementation of [inaudible] policies and measures could be reversed. This is where financial, financing strategies programme on REDD+ plays a fundamental role. In the region there are other countries that have increased their deforestation due to other factors where political will of the authority counts. So a failure to recognise these efforts would put at risk the valuable remnants of the Amazon forest which are vital to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement and with the support of the Fund.
So with all these considerations we are again happy to see that an agreement was reached and we strongly support once again approval of this funding proposal. Over. Thank you.
And the last board member to speak is Italy’s Paola Pettinari of the Ministry of Economy and Finance:
Thank you chair. Be very brief. I think there can be lessons learned from this project that should hopefully help the board allow to close the policy gaps and moving forward and to develop and refine our strategic planning. This whole conversation showed that there is a need for more clarity and better guidance to those who propose funding proposals and we look forward to working to improve these going forward. Thank you chair. Over.
The co-chair then gives the CSO active observer Eileen Mairena Cunningham, of the Nicaraguan NGO Asociación Indígena Centro para la Autonomia y Desarollo de los Pueblos Indígenas, one minute to speak:
Thank you chair. We welcome the [inaudible] funding proposal of the Indigenous Peoples of the Amazonian region in Colombia. And we think it’s a good indication that they are more than passive benificiaries now and they are going to be stakeholders in the implementation of the action funded by the GCF.
But we have some other concerns. One of them is about despite the signing of the peace agreement in 2016 peoples and communities are still affected by the armed conflict in Colombia. And we think it’s very difficult to participate in a project planning and execution in safe conditions in the country. It’s not clear how this project will guarantee the rights of participation in this circumstance, especially due that the lack of ratification Escazú Agreement by the government. So for this reason a special rule must be established that are adapted to the local realities and provide special protection for the Indigenous communities and environmental defenders involved.
Colombia’s national REDD+ strategy does not address the several hundred unresolved land claims that are still in Colombian forest land. Colombia has a constitutional obligation to secure Indigenous People legal access to their collective land and Indigenous territories constitute effective barriers against deforestation. Therefore we strongly argue GCF to include a condition for approval of this funding proposal and dedicated fund to resolve this matter.
We know that it is a great concern that the deforestation in Colombia increased substantially in 2017 and as evidence in point 3 of section 8 in the scorecard. This represents a reversal of the result well above the result Colombia seeks payment for.
We also question whether Colombia should be considered a HFLD country which is the basis for allowing an adjustment of the reference period above the historical average. Colombia’s safeguards information system is still weak at the level of implementation. There is a lack of dedicated budget and efficient monetary [inaudible] implement the safeguards framework especially in relation to Indigenous Peoples’ rights. Funds should be allocated to this end in close participation with Indigenous Peoples and CSOs. Thank you chair.
The board did not discuss the points that Cunningham raised. Co-chair Bhatti simply invited the board to approve the funding proposal, and the board approved the funding proposal.
This post is part of a series of posts on REDD-Monitor looking at REDD and environmental injustice in the Andes Amazon.