Setting a high bar: The procedures of the Independent Redress Mechanism of the GCF
In February 2019 the supreme governing body of the Green Climate Fund adopted the Procedures and Guidelines of its Independent Redress Mechanism (IRM), ushering in a new era of innovation and accountability at GCF. The newly adopted Procedures and Guidelines raise the bar for accountability mechanisms worldwide and hopefully, set off a race to the top. As a great judge, Lord Esher of the UK once said, procedure is the handmaid of justice. Proper procedures enable the GCF to deliver robust and responsive redress to those who might be adversely affected by its projects or programmes.
Responding to the learning culture espoused by the Green Climate Fund and building on international good practice, the recently adopted IRM procedures push the frontiers of accountability on several fronts. They provide for:
- Increased access for complainants;
- Proactive outreach and capacity-building programmes for downstream grievance redress mechanisms;
- Self-initiated investigations;
- Protection from retaliation;
- Meaningful participation of complainants and stakeholders facilitated through the IRM bearing costs
Taken together, this set of progressive procedures set the IRM apart from other accountability and grievance redress mechanisms (GRMs).
Minimizing or Eliminating Barriers to Access
The IRM is committed to providing ease of access and a streamlined avenue to redress. The new procedures reflect this by reducing or eliminating barriers for complainants to access the IRM. In practice, complainants (whether an individual or a group or community) can submit a complaint in any language, through any medium and up to two years from the date the harm becomes known or within 2 years of project closure. The IRM bears the costs of the complainant’s meaningful participation in its proceedings, and complainants and other parties are kept in the loop throughout. Pushing the envelope further, the IRM is able to recommend redress to the GCF Board in the form of compensation and/or actions to bring a GCF project into compliance with GCF policies and procedures. Complainants can be represented by anyone they choose to appoint, including their government.
Suo Moto Function
The suo moto modality allows for the IRM to initiate proceedings and recommend redress in cases where the barriers are too high for communities and individual(s) to access the IRM. This modality is a powerful and critical component to the IRM, adding another layer of protection to the environmental and social safeguards (including gender and indigenous peoples) of the GCF and ensuring the institution stays faithful to them.
Building on international best practice, the IRM’s procedures allow complaints to be dealt with through voluntary problem solving. Problem solving is an alternative that allows complainants and other parties to participate in dialogue and in identifying joint solutions for the problems they are facing. Problem solving can be an alternative to compliance investigations, or in some cases can be undertaken in addition to compliance review. Problem solving at the IRM looks to create a safe space where participants are able to be open with each other and are able to explore potential interests and solutions. Often times, parties will agree on ground rules that define a confidential space where they can share information, while still reporting on progress and outcomes to external parties and the wider public. The ultimate objective of problem solving is help participants identify and implement win-win solutions to the issues raised, and to do so sustainably.
Another innovation in the IRM procedures is about remedial action plans and how they are monitored. Once the GCF Board approves redress to a complainant, the GCF Secretariat, in collaboration with the accredited entity concerned must prepare a remedial action plan that shows how, when and by whom the redress will be delivered. Past practice in other institutions have shown that all too often, action plans are vague or inadequate to deliver effective redress. In the IRM’s procedures, the IRM must agree with the Secretariat’s draft remedial action plan for it to become effective, giving it more leverage over the development of the action plan and the plan’s ability to deliver redress. Additionally, the IRM can ask that the action plan be upgraded if its own monitoring efforts show that it is not succeeding in delivering redress.
These modalities are innovations and are significant departures from other accountability mechanisms. Some accountability mechanisms cannot comment on or monitor remedial action plans. Others can monitor them but have no formal role in the development of an action plan, and so far, only the IRM has the ability to request an upgrading of an approved remedial action plan. These elements were integrated into the IRM’s procedures in order to strengthen the IRM’s monitoring role, and to address the instances of inadequate response from international finance institutions even when harm has been found by their accountability mechanisms. Project affected people have been frustrated in their search for justice and redress, and faced with weak action plans or unresponsive institutions, have looked for other forums of redress. The IRM’s procedures intend to make the IRM and the GCF more responsive to project affected people and to the need to provide effective and adequate redress and accountability.
The IRM procedures have other noteworthy provisions. For example, the procedures set standards for how the IRM will assess evidence in its own decision-making. They make it clear that the GCF’s General Counsel will provide legal advice to the IRM only when requested to do so by the IRM, and all such advice must be fully disclosed to the Board and the public.
In its decision adopting the procedures, the GCF Board put in place yet another innovation. While accountability mechanisms follow due process rules, their recommendations are generally submitted to the institution’s Board for final decision. Ensuring basic due process when the Board makes that final decision is crucial to enhancing the credibility and fairness of that decision. The GCF Board resolved to request the IRM together with its Ethics and Audit Committee to draft guidelines for its consideration on aspects relevant to Board proceedings when making those decisions.
The IRM procedures are a product of nearly 2 years of consultations, revisions and amendments. The new procedures reflect GCF’s commitment to accountability and transparency. They reflect the IRM’s pledge to innovate and shape accountability at the institutional level which will in turn, provide project affected people the means and tools to access the GCF and ensure that its projects not merely “do no harm” but “do good”.