By Megan Rowling
BARCELONA, April 6 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The Green Climate Fund, set up to channel billions of dollars to help poor countries tackle climate change, came under fire on Thursday over its choice of which projects to back, as activists said it was overlooking the needs of the most vulnerable people.
The board, which met for the past three days at the fund's head office in South Korea, approved $755 million in funding for eight new projects, bringing its total allocation to $2.2 billion since 2015.
But civil society groups were disappointed the board did not support a $100 million proposal to bolster Ethiopians, especially women, against an increasing risk of drought, which is currently affecting more than a fifth of the population.
The refusal by some rich nations to get behind the U.N.-led project reflected disagreement over whether the fund's cash should be used for activities that might be regarded as overseas development assistance rather than closely focused on helping people adapt to climate change effects.
"The ones who benefit most from adaptation are the most vulnerable, the most marginalised, the poorest - and in my opinion, those are the people who should be at the heart of the Green Climate Fund," said Karen Orenstein, a climate finance specialist with Friends of the Earth U.S., who was at the board meeting in Songdo.
Brandon Wu, ActionAid USA policy director, said he hoped the Ethiopia decision would not deter other developing nations.
"This is potentially a disincentive for countries to come forward with really ambitious adaptation proposals," he said.
Environment and development groups said the board appears to favour projects that can be clearly labelled as addressing climate change, such as expanding renewable energy or making infrastructure more resilient to extreme weather.
They were highly critical of the board's decision to spend $50 million on improving Tajikistan's hydropower sector, including the rehabilitation of a six-decade-old dam, a proposal from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.
Last month, around 10 international organisations that work on environmental policy sent a letter to the board urging it not to invest in large-scale dam projects.
They argued hydropower is vulnerable to climate change impacts, especially drought, and dams can have negative impacts on biodiversity as well as uprooting people.
Other projects approved this week include a renewable energy financing programme in Egypt, a climate resilience project in Tanzania, and two water-related proposals in Morocco.
Top Green Climate Fund officials declined interview requests.
In a statement issued after the meeting, board co-chair Ewen McDonald of Australia said the fund needed to show "we can implement the funding we have committed by strengthening our core operations and improving the quality of the project pipeline".
Very little money has so far been disbursed by the fund, held up by bureaucratic bumps in completing formal agreements with agencies that will carry out projects on the ground.
The fund has pledges of $10.3 billion. But there is a question mark over whether the U.S. government will deliver the remaining $2 billion of its $3 billion promise to the fund, as U.S. President Donald Trump has threatened to cut off international funding for climate change programmes.
This week's board meeting did not discuss the issue, observers said.
(Reporting by Megan Rowling @meganrowling; editing by Alex Whiting. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, climate change, resilience, women's rights, trafficking and property rights. Visit http://news.trust.org/climate)