The Information Appeals Panel in Action
Building transparency, accountability and keeping good faith for a new institution is undoubtedly a daunting and challenging task. Various mechanisms exist and are mandated to ensure that these critical values of a healthy international organization are observed and respected. At the Green Climate Fund (GCF), the Information Appeals Panel plays a critical role in this framework and provides a channel through which stakeholders may appeal information disclosure requests that are denied. This year the IAP was not only able to exercise its mandate, but also engaged in transparency and accountability building within the GCF. Although only one information appeal was filed in 2018, the case proved to be an important platform for ensuring transparency at the GCF and showcased the importance of having an independent channel to review information requests.
In October of 2018 an appeal was filed by Liane Schalatek on behalf of the Active Observers (AOs) of the GCF which represent civil society organizations (CSOs) and stakeholders that are involved with the Fund’s activities. The appeal raised concerns regarding delayed disclosure of environmental and social safeguard (ESS) documents relating to two GCF projects. These two project proposals (FP083 and FP085) were scheduled to be considered by the GCF Board at its 21st board meeting (B21) in October 2018 in Bahrain. The Active Observers raised concerns that the ESS documents were notified to AOs and Board members only 31 and 29 days prior, respectively, to the board meeting. This is in contrast to the disclosure requirement for Environmental Category A and I1 projects which stipulates that the Accredited Entities, acting through the Secretariat, must disclose relevant information to AOs and Board members at least 120 days prior to the project being considered by the GCF Board. This requirement is in addition to the public disclosure period of 120 days required by the Information Disclosure Policy (IDP) – an obligation cast on AEs. The 120-day disclosure period is essential in that it ensures stakeholders and communities are informed of relevant project proposals and that any and all social and environmental concerns can be considered from the very beginning of the project process.
The IAP decision in a nutshell
At the outset, the GCF Secretariat raised an issue as to whether the IAP could process an appeal when the dispute was over the timeliness of information disclosure, rather than non-disclosure. However, the IAP concluded that this appeal was well within its mandate (see paragraph 29 of the IDP) since in the context of the IDP access is not only about disclosure of information but also about timeliness of disclosure, in essence finding that “access delayed is access denied.”
From an accountability and sustainability point of view, Board members and relevant stakeholders, active observers and CSOs need adequate time to exercise due diligence to assess environmental and social impacts and risks that may arise due to the implementation of a project (especially in higher risk projects or programmes). In considering this appeal, the IAP concluded that the Secretariat should have proactively disclosed information to Board members and AOs 120 days prior to the Board meeting at which the two projects were considered for funding, in accordance with the IDP. Not doing so had the effect of potentially hindering participation from critical GCF stakeholders in project due diligence. As the Board had approved the projects at B21, the IAP’s recommendations took a forward-looking approach. The IAP decision serves as a valuable lesson for the future as to the proactive disclosure of environmental and social documentation related to projects that may have environmental and social impacts. It highlights how critical it is for the Secretariat to proactively disseminate relevant information in a timely manner as required by the IDP so that accredited observers and Board members have enough lead time and are empowered to undertake proper due diligence on projects that come up for funding.
The IAP is pleased to see that the Secretariat has taken steps to disclose both the information appeal, as well as the IAP report on its website, and that is already a step forward in transparency. Ensuring that the GCF remains faithful and accountable to its policies and procedures speaks to the very essence of why independent mechanisms exist. As international organizations are tasked with incredibly complex tasks, there is naturally risk and responsibility in the endeavors being pursued. Building on best practices and adhering to policies is thus a critical pillar to the future, functionality and integrity of the GCF. The IAP is but one of many mechanisms that helps the GCF act with accountability and transparency, and the Panel looks forward to the GCF implementing and learning from the IAP’s first recommendations.