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GCF leadership forum helps turn COVID-19 recovery into cause for climate hope

The call was made during an online Leadership Dialogue organised by the Green Climate Fund (GCF) in the margins of the current 75th session of the UN General Assembly.

Iván Duque Márquez, the Republic of Colombia’s President, told the dialogue that COVID-19 has been a call from nature to humankind. “The most important part of the human condition is to be able always to keep awareness that we can only survive as a species if we understand that our main role is to protect nature,” he said.

While identifying climate change as the biggest global challenge, the president said that GCF’s financial support “has inspired countries to build financial solutions that are targeted to produce positive effects in the way we contribute to reduce the negative effects of climate change.”

President Duque also highlighted the strong role the private sector can play in GCF’s funnelling of climate finance across more than 100 developing countries. "We want to invite the Fund to identify new mechanisms that allow us to connect the financing of the cause against climate change with the possibility of relating it to the development of capital markets," he said.

The GCF event, titled “Tipping point or turning point: Global solidarity for an inclusive, resilient recovery”, explored actions to  enable developing countries to  access the finance needed to revive their economies and recover from COVID-19 in ways that enhance climate action.

While many of the participants acknowledged the huge scale of devastation caused by the pandemic -  in terms of damage to human health, widespread job losses and economic collapse – they pointed to the importance of using economic stimulus measures to simultaneously green economies and take bold climate action.

"Paradoxically, the COVID-19 pandemic has given us a unique opportunity to rethink and renovate our economic and social systems in ways that not only help us better address climate change, but also move us towards a more sustainable, resilient future,” said Patricia Espinosa, United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Executive Secretary.

Ms Espinosa added that COVID-19 has not diminished the need for adequate financing to address climate change. She highlighted the importance of developed countries’ pledge to mobilize USD 100 billion annually in funding for developing countries to support climate action by 2020.

“This should not be seen as an act of generosity, but rather as an investment for the benefit of recipients and donors alike,” she said.

Opening the Leadership Dialogue, Yannick Glemarec, GCF Executive Director, called for “global solidarity and leadership” to ensure the response to COVID-19 provides a turning point for achieving the Paris Agreement and Sustainability Development Goals, rather than a tipping point of entrenched fossil fuel dependency.

Highlighting that climate action and COVID-19 recovery measures must be mutually supportive,  he emphasized that many investments can meet this dual objective of scaling up climate action and reviving economies. However, he noted that financial short-termism and the lack of consideration of climate risk investment in decision making discriminates against climate investments.

“The international and domestic financial systems will have to change rapidly and deeply if COVID-19 is not to push the world beyond a point of no return.” he said.

Mr Glemarec highlighted a number of opportunities to align financial systems with climate ambition during the COVID-19 era. This included translating Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) into investment plans; reviving economies sustainably without increasing debt; making blended finance work for developing countries, notably least developed countries and small island developing states; and realising the full potential of national development banks.

Leonore Gewessler, Austrian Federal Minister for Climate Action, Environment, Energy, Mobility, Innovation and Technology, highlighted the importance of GCF’s ability to translate national climate ambitions into reality as the world’s largest dedicated fund supporting climate action in developing countries.

“The GCF’s capacity to offer a wide range of financial instruments, including non-debt instruments, is also particularly relevant today,” she said. “Developing countries, especially Least Developed Countries and Small Island Developing States, will not be able to take on additional debt to revive their economies.”

Ms Gewessler highlighted Austria’s recent announcement it will pledge a new, additional contribution of EUR 100 million to GCF’s first replenishment, making a five-fold increase compared to its contribution for GCF’s Initial Resource Mobilization in 2014. Following Austria’s additional contribution, pledges made by a total of 31 countries to GCF’s first replenishment now exceeds USD 10 billion.

Marsha Caddle, Barbados Minister of Economic Affairs and Investment, indicated how climate considerations underpin all measures dealing with COVID-19 in Small Island Developing States on the frontline of global warming. “There is only one kind of economic recovery: we need to align our social and economic objectives with climate resilience objectives,” she said.

A common theme during the GCF event was the need to address the two negatives of climate change and COVID-19 by seeking positive ways to reorder the current global financial structure to forge enduring paths of sustainable development.  

“The stakes could not be higher, but ultimately the prize we have in front of us is great,” said Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, UK Minister for South Asia and the Commonwealth.

While the GCF Leadership Dialogue provided a useful forum to progress innovative thinking on green, resilient COVID-19 recovery, participants emphasised the need to turn ideas into action.

“The threats we face are real, and the global response has been weaker than it needs to be,” said Simon Stiell, Grenada’s Minister for Climate Resilience, the Environment, Forestry, Fisheries and Disaster Management. “Leadership has been shown by GCF, but there is a need for additional global efforts. It’s up to us collectively to make this a turning point.”