By Megan Rowling
BARCELONA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The Green Climate Fund, which aims to channel billions of dollars to help poorer nations tackle global warming, is not yet backing the right kind of projects to bring about a sea change in low-carbon development, said its recently departed executive director.
Héla Cheikhrouhou, who was appointed as Tunisia's minister for energy, mining and renewables in its new government on Friday, urged the $10.3-billion fund to provide clearer guidelines on what it is seeking to finance in areas such as water, urban development, energy and transport.
"Now our rules are very broad... the net that exists is very wide, so anything goes," Cheikhrouhou told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an interview from Tunis.
"We can't continue like that; we need to invest the money wisely to meet the mandate of the fund."
The Green Climate Fund has a specific objective to promote a "paradigm shift towards low-emission and climate-resilient development pathways", and aims to use its money to achieve "transformational impact".
Since November 2015, the South Korea-based fund has approved investments of around $424 million in 17 projects and has an "aspirational goal" to commit $2.5 billion this year - a goal observers say will be tough to reach.
In the rush to get the first projects approved before the Paris climate talks in December last year, and to hit the 2016 goal, some proposals given the green light have been criticised as "business as usual".
They include a plan to develop solar energy in Chile and another to support World Bank climate action in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.
Cheikhrouhou, who left the fund after one three-year term, said the agencies eligible to request its cash "need to help us to respect our mandate, and should make a bigger effort to bring us things that are not just ready and have been lying around for a while".
The fund, for its part, is working to produce technical notes to help its partners understand what kind of things it defines as "paradigm-shifting", she added.
For example, where a growing city is struggling to supply enough water to residents, simply piping in extra water could make things worse by attracting more people. Instead urban planning could be changed to spur development in regions with better water resources.
Or, in a country that wants to boost the share of renewables in its energy mix, the Green Climate Fund could back efforts to change regulations or build institutions that would attract investment into its chosen forms of clean energy on a large scale, Cheikhrouhou said.
Merely constructing a bigger wind farm or getting business involved in ongoing government efforts to reduce carbon emissions might not make the grade, she explained.
"If (the fund) became all things to all people, we would have very limited impact in the greater scheme of things. So we need to find ways to signal clearly what is a project that would change the game," she said.
PARIS BUILDING BLOCK
Despite this challenge, Cheikhrouhou said the fund had achieved a great deal in its first three years, and had been an important building block for the new global climate change deal sealed in Paris last year, giving developing countries "extra confidence" to sign up to that agreement.
"It was one of those fast sprints where you have to jump over hurdles," she said. The main hurdles were hammering out the fund's business model, raising $10 billion from governments, and approving the first projects in time for Paris, she added.
This year, she focused on boosting staff numbers at the fund's secretariat to cope with its growing work load, and putting in place the right procedures and systems to enable the fund to run smoothly.
Those efforts still need to be accelerated so that the fund has a firm foundation to expand its activities. "There has to be a lot of hard work," she said.
The board plans to appoint a new executive director after interviewing candidates at its next meeting in October.
Javier Manzanares, the fund's chief financial officer, is acting as interim head until the new leader takes over, which the board hopes will be by early next year.
CLEANER ENERGY FOR TUNISIA
Cheikhrouhou, in her new role as Tunisia's energy minister, said she would seek to promote investment in the north African country's energy sector, with the aim of achieving "a cleaner and more efficient energy mix" over time.
Renewable energy now accounts for only around 3 to 4 percent of electric power generation, she noted, even though Tunisia has significant wind and solar resources.
"That is not where we want to be 10, 20 years from now," she said, adding that the country's democratic transition meant the time was ripe to start shifting that situation.
Tunisia has set targets for raising the share of renewable energy in its electricity production to 14 percent in 2020 and 30 percent in 2030.
(Reporting by Megan Rowling @meganrowling; editing by Laurie Goering. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)