The Green Climate Fund in 2016: a successful year of Australian leadership

mcdonald-ewen-100x130 By Ewen McDonald, Deputy Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade 

In December, the Green Climate Fund (GCF) held its final Board meeting for 2016 in Apia, Samoa. Co-hosted by Australia, this was the first GCF Board meeting held in the Pacific and the first opportunity for many participants to see climate impacts up close.

Given the impacts were in our region, home to some of the world’s most vulnerable communities, made the experience a personal one for me. It is why Australian leadership in the GCF – the world’s foremost fund for responding to climate change – is important for regional prosperity and security.

A highlight of the meeting was a visit organised by the Samoan Government to local sites and infrastructure affected by climate impacts such as Cyclone Evan in 2012, including Leone Bridge, which is being rebuilt with Australian Government support. We were fortunate to be joined by Australia’s Minister for International Development and the Pacific, Senator the Hon Concetta Fierravanti Wells. Speaking at the official welcome reception later that evening, the Minister underlined Australia’s commitment to supporting and strengthening the resilience of Pacific island countries.

GCF Board members and the Australian Minister for International Development and the Pacific visit a seawall recently constructed by the Samoan Government. Seawalls help protect communities and livelihoods from rising sea levels. (Credit: DFAT) 

That commitment has been driving Australia’s efforts to play a key role in the GCF’s development since the Fund was formally established in 2010 under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). In the years following, I served on behalf of Australia as Vice Co-Chair of the Transitional Committee that established the Fund’s Governing Instrument, as well as the inaugural developed country Co-Chair of the Board in 2013. I again took up the Co-Chair role in 2016.

The Australian Government pledged AUD200 million to the Fund over 2015-2018. Our leadership has helped raise awareness of our region’s vulnerabilities. This is key to a better understanding – and advancement – of the region’s development objectives and potential.

Residents of the South Tarawa Atoll in Kiribati bathe in between the washed seawalls near the town of Bairiki. (Credit: Vlad Sokhin)

I’m pleased to say that 2016 was the most successful year yet for the Fund and that we moved a long way in mobilising resources and implemented important policy and governance reforms.

The headline achievement is, of course, funding commitments. In 2016, the GCF Board committed over USD1.3 billion for adaptation and mitigation proposals in developing countries, compared to USD168 million in 2015, the GCF’s first year of operation.

The Board also took key decisions on policy, procedures and staffing. The effect of these decisions will be a more efficient, more transparent and ultimately more effective GCF. We also significantly expanded the GCF’s partner base to include national and international organisations, private financial institutions, environmental NGOs and multilateral development banks. The ability to work across such a diverse set of partners is one way the Fund differentiates itself from the standard development fund model.

In 2016, the Fund also transitioned to new leadership, with Australian Howard Bamsey,—a well-regarded and experienced development and climate change professional—becoming the new Executive Director of the GCF Secretariat.

Each of these achievements helps move the fund closer to being the kind of institution it was established to be: a catalyst for transformation in the way that the global community approaches development and responds to climate change with the private sector playing an important role as funder and partner in several GCF projects and programmes.

The GCF meeting in December reflected the success and energy that marked the Fund in 2016. At the meeting, the Board approved eight additional proposals, worth USD315 million, and accredited seven new partner entities. The approved proposals included two projects and one program in the Pacific, worth a total of USD98 million. This brings total GCF investment in the Pacific to USD165 million.

A collapsed house on the banks of Mataniko River in Honiara, the capital of the Solomon Islands. In 2014 the region was badly affected by flash floods, and thousands of homes on the shore were washed away. (Credit: Vlad Sokhin)

In Samoa, I was privileged to be re-elected developed country Co-Chair for 2017—the first time any country will lead in consecutive terms. This reflected the Board’s confidence in Australia’s leadership. Australia now has an important opportunity to consolidate last year’s progress and continue to draw attention – and resources – to the Pacific. The year ahead will no doubt be challenging. But with continued support from the Fund’s Secretariat and Board, and now with a greater understanding of what is possible, I am confident that the GCF will continue to evolve as a Fund to support countries in the Pacific (and beyond) with climate resilience.


Ewen McDonald joined DFAT as a Deputy Secretary in November 2013. His responsibilities include aid development policy and strategy, multilateral policy and finance, global humanitarian and recovery policy, NGOs and volunteers, and innovation. He is the department’s Indigenous Champion and a White Ribbon Ambassador.

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