Enhancing Citizen Participation in Multilateral Climate Funds: Lessons and Challenges

Multilateral climate and environment funds such as the Climate Investment Funds (CIF), the Global Environment Facility (GEF), and the Green Climate Fund (GCF) have set benchmarks for integrating citizen participation into their decision-making processes. These funds have recognized that engaging civil society isn’t just a token gesture—it’s a vital component in scaling climate action, improving project implementation, and ensuring equitable allocation of resources. But how do we ensure this participation is genuinely meaningful?

Historically, climate and environment funds have been inclusive of civil society’s voice. Organized civil society groups have emerged as crucial participants, championing the cause of a livable planet. This collaborative spirit is evident in the policies and practices of these funds, often surpassing those of other multilateral development organizations. This commitment extends to access to information, grievance redress mechanisms, and, most notably, in governance through direct participation in board-level bodies as non-state stakeholder observers.

These participatory mechanisms promise better outcomes by integrating diverse perspectives and grassroots insights. However, the approach to stakeholder engagement varies significantly among the major climate funds. These differences are not just procedural; they have substantial impacts on the effectiveness and scope of civil society’s influence.

The GEF, for instance, supports and works closely with a CSO Network dating back to its inception. This network has representation in the Council and plays a pivotal role in accrediting CSOs engaging with the Facility. In contrast, CSOs involved with the GCF have taken a more independent stance, functioning as active watchdogs while holding two observer seats on the GCF Board.

The CIF stands out with its extensive observer program, including representation from civil society, indigenous peoples, and the private sector in its Trust Fund Committees and subcommittees, making it more representative of the diversity of society. Unlike the GEF and the GCF, it does not have a corresponding CSO network and thus has been less organized as a collective, although observers have developed informal coordination mechanisms.

Despite these structural differences, common challenges confront these constituencies, particularly civil society and indigenous peoples:

  • Capacity Gap: The voluntary nature of observer roles often leads to a mismatch in resources and expertise.
  • Knowledge and Information Gap: Processing vast amounts of technical information in a timely manner is a significant hurdle.
  • Representation Gap: There’s often a disconnect between observers and the wider constituencies they represent.
  • Process and Operational Gap: Tracking the complex multi-agency implementation process of climate finance is challenging.
  • Empowerment Gap: Civil society operates in an often challenging environment, lacking public support.

Addressing these gaps is crucial for effective engagement. A study published by the Stakeholder Advisory Network on Climate Finance (SAN), supported by the CIF, delves deeper into these issues and offers recommendations. Findings of this study were recently discussed at a panel in the UNFCCC COP 28, in Dubai, and also featured at the World Bank/IMF Annual Meetings in Marrakech . A key finding is that the ability of citizen groups to self-organize is perhaps the most critical factor in overcoming these challenges.

In conclusion, with the urgency of the climate crisis, the need for ambitious, effective and equitable finance is paramount. In the rapidly-evolving space of multilateral climate finance, the effective inclusion of diverse stakeholders’ voices in influencing practices and policies of the funds, as well as the capacity of stakeholders to organize, is pivotal for a successful green transition.

The SAN was created to promote good governance in climate finance through enhanced stakeholder engagement by supporting non-state oversight, promoting transparency and building capacity to enhance meaningful participation at all levels of climate finance decision-making with particular focus on the global level. It is a network that aims to facilitate sharing of knowledge and coordination among climate fund observers . The SAN is led by a coordinating committee  comprised of observers and former observers representing civil society, indigenous peoples and the private sector across the major multilateral climate funds.


Andres Falconer, consultant, was lead author of the study, Stakeholder Engagement in Climate Finance.  Maria Leichner is Vice Chair of the GEF CSO Network.  Ladd Connell is a CSO Observer of the CIF’s Strategic Climate Fund. 


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