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Green Climate Fund: A Centrifugal Force for Climate Crisis Amidst the 'Denial Doctrine' in the U.S.

Insights + Opinion

By John Boal / The Environmental Magazine

Ok, climate nerds and nerdettes, it's time to flip the narrative on the doom and gloom.


While we're processing a double whammy of new scientific reporting—such as increased global air travel more than doubling from 3 percent to 8 percent of total CO2 emissions and global warming spiking the possibility of a complete oceanic circulation shutdown—and new outcomes such as the recent "rain bomb" of 50 inches in 24 hours hitting Kauai, Hawaii amidst the Neanderthal ostrich mentality of the "Denial Doctrine" by the U.S. Administration, fear not.

In Songdo, South Korea labeled as the "World's Smartest City," there is real hope—and billions of dollars being distributed to marginalized nations around the world—by the Green Climate Fund (GCF).

Once dismissed as nothing more than a "slush fund" by Congressional Republicans, the GCF is now the centrifugal force for the world to rally around its massive mobilization and distribution of not only direct funding but also lines of credit, private climate capital; $500 million for innovative ideas via its "Pitch for the Planet" and sharing of expertise to layer a cohesive resilience for projects comprised primarily for mitigation, adaptation and cross-cutting (i.e. combination of both) to the #1 exigent issue facing the planet.

Adopted in 2010, in Cancun, Mexico at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP 16), the GCF was approved by 194 countries. In 2014, the GCF launched its drive for funding and now has $10.3 billion pledged.

While the U.S. pledged $3 billion—and delivered $1 billion to the GCF under the Obama Administration—France, Germany, Japan and the United Kingdom have all delivered at least $1 billion as well. The balance of the $5.3 billion in pledged funding has come from 43 countries and, notably, the City of Paris.

At its 19th Board meeting in March, 2018, the GCF approved $1.09 billion in funding for 23 projects such as:

  • $86 million to Vietnam for Scaling Up Energy Efficiency for Industrial Enterprises
  • $42 million to Grenada for its Climate Resilient Water Sector
  • $33 million to North Rwanda for Strengthening its Climate Resilience of Rural Communities
  • $32 million to Zambia for Strengthening its Climate Resilience of Agricultural Livelihoods
  • $27 million to Barbados for it Water Sector Resilience Nexus for Sustainability
  • $25 million to Paraguay for its Poverty, Reforestation, Energy and Climate Change Project
  • $25 million to Bangladesh for Enhancing its Capacities to Cope with its Enhanced Salinity

So far, the GCF Board has awarded $3.7 billion for 76 projects and programs to assist developing countries for their low emission and climate resilient development both of which must also be sustainable.

While the news-centric TV media in the U.S. has for the most part completely eliminated any kind of in-depth reporting on the current fragile tipping point of our planet, the GCF has steered its organization and extensive one-on-one communications and outreach to these priority at-risk nations covering 28 African States; 26 Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and 15 Small Island Developing States (SIDS).

Kiribati: A SIDS Rising Up

For more than 25 years, Kiribati has been a "poster nation" for the rising seas. Straddling the equator in the Pacific Ocean with just over 110,000 population, Kiribati and its pristine 33 atolls lie just 3 meters above sea level.

In 2008, its then President Anote Tong declared that Kiribati had reached the "point of no return" and added that its citizens need "to plan for the day when you no longer have a country is indeed painful, but I think we have to do that." Six years later in 2014, he then purchased 5,460 acres of land on Vanua Levu as an insurance plan for eventual relocation of his entire population at a cost of $9.3 million Australian dollars.

Now, under President Taneti Maamau, Kiribati is reversing its relocation strategy and embracing the opportunity to address three specific environmental issues. After receiving $586,000 in 2017 from the GCF to staff up and construct internal capacities under the Readiness Programme, Kiribati is making its first application to address its most pressing national need of a depleting fresh water supply from drought and rising salty sea water seeping into its groundwater.

"We have a proposal that is now with the GCF titled 'South Tarawa Water Supply Project' that seeks to provide water 24/7 to residents on South Tarawa where over half of the population currently resides," explained Jonathan Mitchell, director of Climate Finance in the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development. "The amount being sought from the GCF is circa US $25 million to $30 million." Moving forward, their second and third proposals will be for Coastal Protection and Renewable Energy as part of the Kiribati Nationally Determined Contribution to the Paris Agreement.

Safeguards Sealed In

Talk about an organization that has its act together. It's as if the GCF's staff of 164 has embraced every TED Talk on how to engage, empathize, enlighten and empower those less fortunate who are also on the front lines of the climate crisis regardless of where they live in the world.

From the beginning, by holding "Structured Dialogues" bringing nations' representatives together regionally in Africa, Asia, Caribbean, Latin America and the Pacific, the GCF provides such an egalitarian and well-choreographed human interaction with an inviting presentation such as "GCF 101," "Empowering Countries," "Simplified Approval Process" and "Safeguards" such as "Indigenous Peoples," "Mainstreaming Gender" and "Environmental and Social Safeguards."

For example on "Mainstreaming Gender," the GCF recognizes "The impacts of climate change affect women and men differently. Women are hardest hit by dramatic shifts in climate conditions. Women's mortality from climate-related disasters is higher than that of men. Compared to men, domestic burdens (e.g. collection of firewood and water) of women increase substantially with various manifestations of climate change."

To ensure the GCF is accountable for the billions in climate funding it's dispersing around the world, it created an Independent Evaluation Unit (IEU) in 2017 headed by Jyotsna Puri, a native of India.

"We now have excellent data and good technology to provide the evidence to deal with climate change and other challenges," Puri stated. "But we also now realize that just sharing knowledge is not enough. We need to go the 'final mile' in making people change their behavior. We incorrectly thought that people would look at the evidence and say 'Voila!' I need to change behavior. Nowhere has this naive approach been more underscored than in the inadequacy of action around climate change. Agencies that are implementing GCF-funded projects should think about encouraging action that is both positive and long-lasting. Transformational change only occurs if it takes place at the grassroots."

Reeling in the Years of CO2

Yet, to know that the US created the Electric Model Ts in 1906 that were soon squashed by the oil barons—and now after 112 years of abusing our planet with gas and diesel vehicles—it is absolutely insane we are on the brink of unimaginable consequences with a gossamer window of precious time to cool Mother Earth who's been running a rising fever for decades.

Fortunately, the GCF has created a savvy structure that we all need to pay attention to as this enlightened body of committed and scrupulous global citizens has designed a path of resilience for the poorest and most vulnerable nations that are at a high risk of extinction through no fault of their own. Nevertheless, when accepting funding, these recipient nations are mandated to reduce their very minimal CO2 emissions while the current US Administration is in retrograde preaching a denial doctrine that projects the world's richest nation as being completely isolated sulking in its insipid ignorance within its shallow and crumbling house-of-corrupt-cards.

Drawing attention to a sense of climate despair with the general U.S. population, a professor at the University of Alaska, Elizabeth Arnold, summarized it this way: "The threats posed to humans, polar bears and entire ecosystems are recounted on a daily basis, leading to what researchers call a 'hope gap.' With little offered in the way of action, people eventually tune out: 'We're doomed. What's on Hulu?,' Arnold succinctly wrote in an Op-ed in the Los Angeles Times.

The GCF is flipping that narrative and orchestrating a climate backbone of resilience with 130 mostly underdeveloped nations by dispensing significant funding and tangible hope that we can survive this if we all pull together to drastically reduce our CO2 emissions. Along with the GCF, the State of California is also showing the way. With its new mandate for all new homes to be constructed with solar panels, Jerry Brown, the Governor of California, is hosting its upcoming Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco on September 12-14 with two of its five challenge areas being "Transformative Climate Investments" and "Sustainable Communities." These initiatives are so synergistic with the GCF, the established leader in this arena.

Right now, we have this golden opportunity to get people's heads out of their smart-ass phones; shake their bones; steer them away from their narcissistic "journeys" and implore an all-in, balls-out global collaboration by supporting and expanding the brilliant models being developed by the GCF for making those considered least, those considered most for building climate resilience. And maybe, instead of searching for the newest, needless app—or snarking on a trendy social meme—we can start closing that "hope gap" in the developed world as well and get to the serious business of preserving our planet.

Author of Be A Global Force Of One! and a co-author of Chicken Soup For the Volunteer's Soul, John T. Boal is a national accounts director for a New York-based nonprofit and resides in Burbank, California.

Reposted with permission from our media associate The Environmental Magazine.

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Brazilians living in The Netherlands organized a demonstration in solidarity with rainforest protectors and against the president of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro on Sept. 1 in The Hague, Netherlands. Romy Arroyo Fernandez / NurPhoto / Getty Images

By Tara Smith

Fires in the Brazilian Amazon have jumped 84 percent during President Jair Bolsonaro's first year in office and in July 2019 alone, an area of rainforest the size of Manhattan was lost every day. The Amazon fires may seem beyond human control, but they're not beyond human culpability.

Bolsonaro ran for president promising to "integrate the Amazon into the Brazilian economy". Once elected, he slashed the Brazilian environmental protection agency budget by 95 percent and relaxed safeguards for mining projects on indigenous lands. Farmers cited their support for Bolsonaro's approach as they set fires to clear rainforest for cattle grazing.

Bolsonaro's vandalism will be most painful for the indigenous people who call the Amazon home. But destruction of the world's largest rainforest may accelerate climate change and so cause further suffering worldwide. For that reason, Brazil's former environment minister, Marina Silva, called the Amazon fires a crime against humanity.

From a legal perspective, this might be a helpful way of prosecuting environmental destruction. Crimes against humanity are international crimes, like genocide and war crimes, which are considered to harm both the immediate victims and humanity as a whole. As such, all of humankind has an interest in their punishment and deterrence.

Historical Precedent

Crimes against humanity were first classified as an international crime during the Nuremberg trials that followed World War II. Two German Generals, Alfred Jodl and Lothar Rendulic, were charged with war crimes for implementing scorched earth policies in Finland and Norway. No one was charged with crimes against humanity for causing the unprecedented environmental damage that scarred the post-war landscapes though.

Our understanding of the Earth's ecology has matured since then, yet so has our capacity to pollute and destroy. It's now clear that the consequences of environmental destruction don't stop at national borders. All humanity is placed in jeopardy when burning rainforests flood the atmosphere with CO₂ and exacerbate climate change.

Holding someone like Bolsonaro to account for this by charging him with crimes against humanity would be a world first. If successful, it could set a precedent which might stimulate more aggressive legal action against environmental crimes. But do the Amazon fires fit the criteria?

Prosecuting crimes against humanity requires proof of widespread and systematic attacks against a civilian population. If a specific part of the global population is persecuted, this is an affront to the global conscience. In the same way, domestic crimes are an affront to the population of the state in which they occur.

When prosecuting prominent Nazis in Nuremberg, the US chief prosecutor, Robert Jackson, argued that crimes against humanity are committed by individuals, not abstract entities. Only by holding individuals accountable for their actions can widespread atrocities be deterred in future.

The International Criminal Court's Chief Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, has promised to apply the approach first developed in Nuremberg to prosecute individuals for international crimes that result in significant environmental damage. Her recommendations don't create new environmental crimes, such as "ecocide", which would punish severe environmental damage as a crime in itself. They do signal, however, a growing appreciation of the role that environmental damage plays in causing harm and suffering to people.

The International Criminal Court was asked in 2014 to open an investigation into allegations of land-grabbing by the Cambodian government. In Cambodia, large corporations and investment firms were being given prime agricultural land by the government, displacing up to 770,000 Cambodians from 4m hectares of land. Prosecuting these actions as crimes against humanity would be a positive first step towards holding individuals like Bolsonaro accountable.

But given the global consequences of the Amazon fires, could environmental destruction of this nature be legally considered a crime against all humanity? Defining it as such would be unprecedented. The same charge could apply to many politicians and business people. It's been argued that oil and gas executives who've funded disinformation about climate change for decades should be chief among them.

Charging individuals for environmental crimes against humanity could be an effective deterrent. But whether the law will develop in time to prosecute people like Bolsonaro is, as yet, uncertain. Until the International Criminal Court prosecutes individuals for crimes against humanity based on their environmental damage, holding individuals criminally accountable for climate change remains unlikely.

This story originally appeared in The Conversation. It is republished here as part of EcoWatch's partnership with Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 250 news outlets to strengthen coverage of the climate story.

Author, social activist and filmmaker Naomi Klein speaking on the one year anniversary of Hurricane Maria on Sept. 20, 2018. Erik McGregor / Pacific Press / LightRocket / Getty Images

By Natalie Hanman

Why are you publishing this book now?

I still feel that the way that we talk about climate change is too compartmentalised, too siloed from the other crises we face. A really strong theme running through the book is the links between it and the crisis of rising white supremacy, the various forms of nationalism and the fact that so many people are being forced from their homelands, and the war that is waged on our attention spans. These are intersecting and interconnecting crises and so the solutions have to be as well.

The book collects essays from the last decade, have you changed your mind about anything?

When I look back, I don't think I placed enough emphasis on the challenge climate change poses to the left. It's more obvious the way the climate crisis challenges a rightwing dominant worldview, and the cult of serious centrism that never wants to do anything big, that's always looking to split the difference. But this is also a challenge to a left worldview that is essentially only interested in redistributing the spoils of extractivism [the process of extracting natural resources from the earth] and not reckoning with the limits of endless consumption.

What's stopping the left doing this?

In a North American context, it's the greatest taboo of all to actually admit that there are going to be limits. You see that in the way Fox News has gone after the Green New Deal – they are coming after your hamburgers! It cuts to the heart of the American dream – every generation gets more than the last, there is always a new frontier to expand to, the whole idea of settler colonial nations like ours. When somebody comes along and says, actually, there are limits, we've got some tough decisions, we need to figure out how to manage what's left, we've got to share equitably – it is a psychic attack. And so the response [on the left] has been to avoid, and say no, no, we're not coming to take away your stuff, there are going to be all kinds of benefits. And there aregoing to be benefits: we'll have more livable cities, we'll have less polluted air, we'll spend less time stuck in traffic, we can design happier, richer lives in so many ways. But we are going to have to contract on the endless, disposable consumption side.

Do you feel encouraged by talk of the Green New Deal?

I feel a tremendous excitement and a sense of relief, that we are finally talking about solutions on the scale of the crisis we face. That we're not talking about a little carbon tax or a cap and trade scheme as a silver bullet. We're talking about transforming our economy. This system is failing the majority of people anyway, which is why we're in this period of such profound political destabilisation – that is giving us the Trumps and the Brexits, and all of these strongman leaders – so why don't we figure out how to change everything from bottom to top, and do it in a way that addresses all of these other crises at the same time? There is every chance we will miss the mark, but every fraction of a degree warming that we are able to hold off is a victory and every policy that we are able to win that makes our societies more humane, the more we will weather the inevitable shocks and storms to come without slipping into barbarism. Because what really terrifies me is what we are seeing at our borders in Europe and North America and Australia – I don't think it's coincidental that the settler colonial states and the countries that are the engines of that colonialism are at the forefront of this. We are seeing the beginnings of the era of climate barbarism. We saw it in Christchurch, we saw it in El Paso, where you have this marrying of white supremacist violence with vicious anti-immigrant racism.

That is one of the most chilling sections of your book: I think that's a link a lot of people haven't made.

This pattern has been clear for a while. White supremacy emerged not just because people felt like thinking up ideas that were going to get a lot of people killed but because it was useful to protect barbaric but highly profitable actions. The age of scientific racism begins alongside the transatlantic slave trade, it is a rationale for that brutality. If we are going to respond to climate change by fortressing our borders, then of course the theories that would justify that, that create these hierarchies of humanity, will come surging back. There have been signs of that for years, but it is getting harder to deny because you have killers who are screaming it from the rooftops.

One criticism you hear about the environment movement is that it is dominated by white people. How do you address that?

When you have a movement that is overwhelmingly representative of the most privileged sector of society then the approach is going to be much more fearful of change, because people who have a lot to lose tend to be more fearful of change, whereas people who have a lot to gain will tend to fight harder for it. That's the big benefit of having an approach to climate change that links it to those so called bread and butter issues: how are we going to get better paid jobs, affordable housing, a way for people to take care of their families?

I have had many conversations with environmentalists over the years where they seem really to believe that by linking fighting climate change with fighting poverty, or fighting for racial justice, it's going to make the fight harder. We have to get out of this "my crisis is bigger than your crisis: first we save the planet and then we fight poverty and racism, and violence against women". That doesn't work. That alienates the people who would fight hardest for change.

This debate has shifted a huge amount in the U.S. because of the leadership of the climate justice movement and because it is congresswomen of colour who are championing the Green New Deal. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley and Rashida Tlaibcome from communities that have gotten such a raw deal under the years of neoliberalism and longer, and are determined to represent, truly represent, the interests of those communities. They're not afraid of deep change because their communities desperately need it.

In the book, you write: "The hard truth is that the answer to the question 'What can I, as an individual, do to stop climate change?' is: nothing." Do you still believe that?

In terms of the carbon, the individual decisions that we make are not going to add up to anything like the kind of scale of change that we need. And I do believe that the fact that for so many people it's so much more comfortable to talk about our own personal consumption, than to talk about systemic change, is a product of neoliberalism, that we have been trained to see ourselves as consumers first. To me that's the benefit of bringing up these historical analogies, like the New Deal or the Marshall Plan – it brings our minds back to a time when we were able to think of change on that scale. Because we've been trained to think very small. It is incredibly significant that Greta Thunberg has turned her life into a living emergency.

Yes, she set sail for the UN climate summit in New York on a zero carbon yacht ...

Exactly. But this isn't about what Greta is doing as an individual. It's about what Greta is broadcasting in the choices that she makes as an activist, and I absolutely respect that. I think it's magnificent. She is using the power that she has to broadcast that this is an emergency, and trying to inspire politicians to treat it as an emergency. I don't think anybody is exempt from scrutinising their own decisions and behaviours but I think it is possible to overemphasise the individual choices. I have made a choice – and this has been true since I wrote No Logo, and I started getting these "what should I buy, where should I shop, what are the ethical clothes?" questions. My answer continues to be that I am not a lifestyle adviser, I am not anyone's shopping guru, and I make these decisions in my own life but I'm under no illusion that these decisions are going to make the difference.

Some people are choosing to go on birth strikes. What do you think about that?

I'm happy these discussions are coming into the public domain as opposed to being furtive issues we're afraid to talk about. It's been very isolating for people. It certainly was for me. One of the reasons I waited as long as I did to try and get pregnant, and I would say this to my partner all the time – what, you want to have a Mad Max water warrior fighting with their friends for food and water? It wasn't until I was part of the climate justice movement and I could see a path forward that I could even imagine having a kid. But I would never tell anybody how to answer this most intimate of questions. As a feminist who knows the brutal history of forced sterilisation and the ways in which women's bodies become battle zones when policymakers decide that they are going to try and control population, I think that the idea that there are regulatory solutions when it comes to whether or not to have kids is catastrophically ahistorical. We need to be struggling with our climate grief together and our climate fears together, through whatever decision we decide to make, but the discussion we need to have is how do we build a world so that those kids can have thriving, zero-carbon lives?

Over the summer, you encouraged people to read Richard Powers's novel, The Overstory. Why?

It's been incredibly important to me and I'm happy that so many people have written to me since. What Powers is writing about trees: that trees live in communities and are in communication, and plan and react together, and we've been completely wrong in the way we conceptualise them. It's the same conversation we're having about whether we are going to solve this as individuals or whether we are going to save the collective organism. It's also rare, in good fiction, to valorise activism, to treat it with real respect, failures and all, to acknowledge the heroism of the people who put their bodies on the line. I thought Powers did that in a really extraordinary way.

What are you views on what Extinction Rebellion has achieved?

One thing they have done so well is break us out of this classic campaign model we have been in for a long time, where you tell someone something scary, you ask them to click on something to do something about it, you skip out the whole phase where we need to grieve together and feel together and process what it is that we just saw. Because what I hear a lot from people is, ok, maybe those people back in the 1930s or 40s could organise neighbourhood by neighbourhood or workplace by workplace but we can't. We believe we've been so downgraded as a species that we are incapable of that. The only thing that is going to change that belief is getting face to face, in community, having experiences, off our screens, with one another on the streets and in nature, and winning some things and feeling that power.

You talk about stamina in the book. How do you keep going? Do you feel hopeful?

I have complicated feelings about the hope question. Not a day goes by that I don't have a moment of sheer panic, raw terror, complete conviction that we are doomed, and then I do pull myself out of it. I'm renewed by this new generation that is so determined, so forceful. I'm inspired by the willingness to engage in electoral politics, because my generation, when we were in our 20s and 30s, there was so much suspicion around getting our hands dirty with electoral politics that we lost a lot of opportunities. What gives me the most hope right now is that we've finally got the vision for what we want instead, or at least the first rough draft of it. This is the first time this has happened in my lifetime. And also, I did decide to have kids. I have a seven year old who is so completely obsessed and in love with the natural world. When I think about him, after we've spent an entire summer talking about the role of salmon in feeding the forests where he was born in British Columbia, and how they are linked to the health of the trees and the soil and the bears and the orcas and this entire magnificent ecosystem, and I think about what it would be like to have to tell him that there are no more salmon, it kills me. So that motivates me. And slays me.

This story was originally published by The Guardian, and is republished here as part of the Covering Climate Now partnership to strengthen the media's focus on the climate crisis.

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