A recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found that up to 85% of natural systems in biodiversity-rich spots of Central and South America are projected to be negatively impacted by climate change. These include rainforests such as the Amazon and the Andes which are more vulnerable to droughts and are already under pressure due to deforestation. This is not only relevant for the fauna and flora of Latin America, but also highly significant for the vulnerable communities of the region which are highly dependent on natural resources for their livelihood. In light of the role of rainforests in absorbing carbon dioxide, the degradation of these ecosystems is also meaningful to humanity as a whole. To address these challenges, the Board of the Green Climate Fund (GCF) has approved to date over $2 billion in funding to projects based in Central and South America.
With an increasing number of projects entering implementation in the region, the Independent Redress Mechanism (IRM) focused its most recent outreach activities to engage with Latin America-based civil society organisations (CSO). Notably, it held a focus group discussion on March 2nd targeted at CSOs familiar with development finance and grievance mechanisms and a webinar on March 18th to speak with a wider, less specialised civil society audience. These events were organised in collaboration with the Latin America Early Warning System.
Through these events, we were able to raise awareness about the IRM’s mandate and procedures but also to build trust and discuss any barriers CSOs might face in submitting grievances on behalf of affected communities. The most significant challenges participants raised related to:
- A lack of resources and limited time,
- The perception that grievance redress mechanisms (GRM) are incapable of providing changes at the level of project activities, and
- A lack of knowledge about the IRM and its procedures.
The lack of resources and limited time
A study published in 2019 by the global civil society alliance, Civicus, and the Colombian social impact startup, Innpactia, showed that over the period between 2014 and 2017, donor investment in Latin American civil society’s role in monitoring human rights violations was very low. Our participants highlighted that, considering these limited resources, it was difficult for them to engage with international accountability mechanisms. These mechanisms can be heavy in bureaucracy and experience delays in managing complaints and delivering remedy. The IRM is highly cognisant of these barriers and has strived to enhance its accessibility.
Notably, the process of filing a complaint with the IRM is relatively simple and limits the strain put on complainants and those that support them. In order to file a complaint, complainant(s) only need to provide their name and contact details along with the name, location and nature of the project or programme that has caused or may cause adverse impacts.
Importantly, the complainant is not required to provide evidence of this harm or potential harm at this early stage of the process. They only need to provide a brief explanation as to how they have been or may be adversely affected by the project or programme. Information in a complaint can be shared in a variety of formats including through email, the IRM’s online form, mail, video or voice recording. The grievance can be submitted to the IRM in any language the complainant uses.
Moreover, the Procedures and Guidelines (PGs) of the IRM address the issue of resources in a very direct manner. According to paragraph 91 of our procedures and guidelines, the IRM shall bear the costs of conducting problem solving, compliance review and monitoring as well as the costs of ensuring the meaningful participation of complainants, witnesses and stakeholders in problem solving, compliance review or monitoring.
Perceived inability to deliver remedy
The second barrier most often raised during the events was the perception that grievance mechanisms are not able to deliver remedy to complainants rendering the complaint meaningless and costly. This perception was often linked with the fact that grievance mechanisms have no power to enforce remedial plans or impose actions on the management of their parent organizations. While the IRM recognises its limitations, including the lack of in-country presence and the need to rely on management for the implementation of remedial actions, the IRM is in no way powerless.
The IRM is in charge of monitoring the implementation of agreements concluded through problem solving, final remedial action plans, and decisions of the Board taken on the recommendations of the IRM in relation to grievances and complaints. The methods for monitoring may include consultations with the complainant and other parties as well as site visits. Monitoring reports are made public through the IRM website. Additionally, the IRM may ask the GCF Secretariat to upgrade its monitoring plan. If the GCF Secretariat or Accredited Entity (AE) fail to implement the remedial action expeditiously, the Head of the IRM can report the matter to the Board with a request that the Board take appropriate action.
Furthermore, the IRM’s Terms of Reference expressly mention financial compensation as one of the recommendations that the IRM might make following a compliance review. This mention is particularly progressive and differs from most of the other accountability mechanisms of international financial institutions.
Nevertheless, it is worth noting that one of the main challenges GRMs face in delivering remedy is that their parent institutions have yet to mainstream the costs of providing said remedy into their business model. The private sector has developed a series of tools to deal with remediation in hazardous industries, construction and waste management sectors. These include ring-fenced funds, remediation funds, guarantees and insurance. Similar tools will be necessary to enable remedy in the activities of international financial institutions.
Lack of knowledge about the IRM and its procedures
A 2020 evaluation by the GCF Independent Evaluation Unit found that there was limited awareness of available grievance redress mechanisms at all levels of the GCF ecosystem (IRM, GRM of Accredited Entities, and project-level GRMs). Under the GCF Environmental and Social Policy, accredited entities should inform all stakeholders of, and provide access to the Independent Redress Mechanism. However, a review of the IRM undertaken during the 2020 Annual Performance showed that only 8 out of the 109 reports submitted to the Fund indicated whether and/or how they were bringing the IRM to the attention of stakeholders. Aware of these barriers, the IRM continues to work to engage and cooperate with CSOs in GCF regions of operations. It does so through outreach webinars, focus groups discussions, ad hoc meetings relating to project concerns and through its website and social media channels. The website is now available in Arabic, English, French, Portuguese, Russian and Swahili, and will soon be available in Spanish. Most recently, the IRM hired a Communication Associate to spearhead these efforts and developed an advanced communication strategy involving long term collaboration with CSOs. The IRM also strives to sustain an ongoing dialogue with the staff of the GCF Secretariat to improve its monitoring, reporting and verification infrastructure and ensure accredited entities comply with their duty to make stakeholders and project beneficiaries aware of the IRM as stated in the GCF Environmental and Social Policy.
These past two outreach events have yet again shown that engagement with CSOs is a conducive way to enable two-way dialogue in which the IRM and civil society can reflect on how best to work together and support each other.
Article prepared by Safaa Loukili Idrissi