- Issue: Spring 2018
April 25, 1945.
With war still raging in Europe and the Pacific, delegates from 50 nations gathered in San Francisco to draft the United Nations Charter. That night, President Truman addressed the delegates by radio from Washington, calling them“architects of the better world.”
The horrors of the Second World War serve as a tragic reminder that some threats can’t be contained by borders, and some challenges are too great for one nation—or one organization—to solve alone. That lesson inspired leaders to create multilateral institutions like the United Nations and the World Bank—institutions that have played a crucial role in fostering peace, eradicating diseases, and lifting more than a billion people out of extreme poverty.
Just over 70 years later, the world faces a new threat to shared peace and prosperity. Runaway climate change, like global war, endangers lives and livelihoods across the planet. And, like the threat of large-scale conflict, climate change is a challenge that we can overcome only by banding together.
A new day
The Green Climate Fund (GCF), a multilateral fund dedicated to helping developing countries respond to climate change, continues this tradition of cooperation for the common good. Initiated in 2010 under the auspices of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the GCF supports efforts by nations to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to the current and future effects of climate change.
The logic here is simple. The nations least equipped to cope with climate change, and least responsible for the problem, too often take the brunt of it. To help them address this challenge, the US and dozens of other countries have pledged more than $10 billion to the GCF’s work. To date, 54 projects have been approved for $2.7 billion in GCF funding, ranging in purpose from decreasing flood risks in Samoa to developing solar energy in Chile. And on November 16, 2017, WWF and GCF signed an Accreditation Master Agreement, enabling WWF-US to manage such GCF-financed projects on behalf of our entire international network and our country partners.
“Climate change is a complex, global challenge that requires bold actions backed by financing at scale,” said David McCauley, WWF’s senior vice president for policy and government affairs. “By working with the GCF, we can help build the coalitions needed to meet the climate action priorities of nations around the world— particularly when it comes to capitalizing on the climate-related benefits of protecting and restoring crucial ecosystems like forests, freshwater systems, mangroves, wetlands, and coral reefs.”
WWF is one of only three international conservation groups to become accredited implementing partners of the GCF. (The others are Conservation International and the International Union for Conservation of Nature.)
We have already received approval for our first GCF-financed project: a $26.6 million investment in the Kingdom of Bhutan. These funds are the first GCF grant for Bhutan, and they’re a much-needed shot in the arm for the work that WWF is already doing to protect the country’s stunning landscapes and natural resources.
Nestled between China to the north and India to the south Bhutan is one of the world’s great ecological gems. To outsiders, the tiny nation resembles a fairy-tale Buddhist kingdom untouched by the trappings of modernity. Rivers snake their way through lush mountains wreathed in mist. Snow leopards and Bengal tigers roam a massive network of protected landscapes that encompass more than half of the nation’s territory.
Bhutan’s ecosystems and rich biodiversity benefit the more than 800,000 people who live there, and many others across the planet. The rivers that flow through Bhutan are part of a larger network that provides freshwater for one-fifth of the world’s population. And Bhutan’s forests serve as a powerful carbon sink, absorbing nearly three times more CO2 than the country emits every year.
Relatively isolated from the rest of the world for much of its history, Bhutan is now determined to promote economic growth without sacrificing the ecological treasures that have sustained its people for centuries. A new program called Bhutan for Life aims to safeguard the country’s 5 million acres of protected lands forever. To help the government of Bhutan gradually assume the full cost of this ambitious program, WWF and others worked with them to adopt an innovative financial approach.
Bhutan for Life goes into effect only when investors reach the full fundraising goal—$43 million in this case. No one pays a dime until the goal has been met. And even when it has, the release of funds (including those provided by the GCF) depends upon the Royal Government of Bhutan meeting certain milestones. The government will contribute a further $75 million over the life of the project to meet its objectives. With this approach, co-investors can have confidence that their contributions will have the intended impacts, and that Bhutan is accountable for fulfilling its commitments.
The big picture
We know this works because we’ve done it before. In 2014, the government of Brazil, WWF, and others used the same model to raise $215 million for ARPA for Life, the largest tropical forest conservation project ever conceived. ARPA for Life aims to permanently protect 150 million acres of the Brazilian Amazon rain forest, and one study projects that it could help Brazil avoid at least 1.4 billion tons of carbon emissions by 2050.
“World Wildlife Fund has a proven track record of working across sectors and across borders to protect our planet’s most vulnerable wildlife, lands, and resources,” says GCF executive director Howard Bamsey. “That experience makes them highly qualified to partner with the GCF in this endeavor.”
We believe the best is yet to come. Through the broader Earth for Life initiative, WWF plans to replicate the financing model used in Brazil and Bhutan in 10 countries over the coming years. By working together—with individuals, businesses, governments, and organizations like the GCF—we can be “architects of the better world.”