Making the most of climate funds begins and ends with country ownership.
In theory, the principle of country ownership is at the heart of effective development. It’s the first principle of The Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness and former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton spoke of its importance during her speech in Busan in 2011 where countries reaffirmed their commitment to ownership.
Undoubtedly, this is why country ownership is one of the primary guiding principles the Green Climate Fund (GCF) adopted at its founding. Time and time again experience has shown that our efforts to tackle poverty are most successful and sustainable when countries take the lead in their own development. Despite the principle being widely accepted by both contributors and recipients alike, putting it into practice remains a challenge, and the GCF is no exception. The Fund is still in its early development and there are many things it needs to do to make sure we get country ownership right.
We have a few ideas:
- Define country ownership so there is a basis to guide and assess the policies and work of the Fund. A no-objection letter is, or letter from a designated authority within the government, is NOT country ownership. In the context of climate finance and the GCF, country ownership implies the following:
- Climate finance is aligned with national strategies and priorities;
- Decision-making responsibilities are vested in institutions within the country;
- National systems are used for ensuring accountability in the use of climate finance; and
- Inclusive, participatory multi-stakeholder processes (that include women, indigenous peoples, affected communities and other relevant social groups) are utilized to develop country strategies, programs and projects, oversee their implementation, and evaluate their outcomes.
It should be noted that robust multi-stakeholder engagement can never be an obstacle to strong country ownership, instead it is a prerequisite. The principle of country ownership goes beyond a narrow focus solely on government-funder interaction and also implies meaningful participation of and accountability to a broad range of domestic stakeholders.
Country ownership isn’t a static condition, but something the GCF can help to progressively realize and build upon over time.
- Use a robust approach to hold accredited entities accountable for contributing to country ownership.
The monitoring and accountability framework of the GCF includes some loose provisions to monitor accredited entities and the portfolio of the Fund. When detailed guidance and procedures are developed to implement this framework the GCF should ensure country ownership is fully incorporated by:
- Assessing stakeholder engagement throughout each stage of the project/program cycle, starting with project conceptualization. This assessment should be specific for each stage and include details of who was involved and how they were involved;
- Assessing the quality and effectiveness of capacity building support provided by accredited entities, especially international entities, mandated to provide such support; and
- Mandating reporting from all international accredited entities on results of efforts to strengthen institutional and regulatory systems for low-emission and climate resilient planning and development.
- Improve the investment criteria on country ownership – and apply it strictly
Currently the assessment factors used in the country ownership investment criteria don’t adequately reflect the principle of country ownership. To improve upon the current criteria, sub-criteria and assessment factors, the GCF should include a sub-criteria that details the extent to which national systems are used to ensure accountability. In addition, as the GCF incorporates more robust scoring and assessment of the criteria, a scale for each of the sub-criteria should be applied. For example, the quality of stakeholder engagement in the design as well as project plans should be assessed and scored accordingly. Proposals that don’t demonstrate a basic level of country ownership and commitment to deepen engagement throughout the project or program should not be approved by the Board.
- Allow for learning and adjustment of plans to respond to annual participatory reviews
Making the GCF’s annual participatory reviews effective not only requires the participation of local stakeholders and affected communities, but also space for the Fund and its partners to respond to feedback and adjust their plans accordingly. For these engagements to be effective they need to enhance the decision-making power of local men and women involved in the project. The quality of participation has a direct effect on the effectiveness and sustainability of projects and programs, so it’s important that the Fund is responsive to the inputs of local stakeholders.
Funders have lots of excuses for why they don’t put country ownership into practice, and recipient governments have room to improve their leadership and facilitation of meaningful local engagement. But country ownership is more than something that is nice to do. Country ownership can improve results, make them more sustainable, and build the capabilities of recipients so that one day less external support will be necessary. Climate change is the most pressing challenge of our time, so making sure we do it right the first time and make the most of our climate dollars is more important than ever.