How the UN agencies are eating into development funds for the Global South

The three Rio Conventions, Global Environment Facility (GEF), Green Climate Fund (GCF) and FIP (Forest Investment Programme) provide most of the financial support to the countries in the global south. There are national entities from the global south with the capacity to receive and channel funds to respective governments and other non-state implementing entities. These funds should empower these national entities including government agencies, and build capacity in the global south to design, implement, monitor and review the projects and administer the funds. Instead it has become a norm for some UN agencies like UNDP, UNEP and FAO to “capture” financial resources intended for member states taking over and duplicating roles of national governments in managing both the projects and funds. The UN agencies have higher overhead and staff costs including a reliance on expensive international consultants.

The cumulative effect is decreased financial flows to the actual and direct beneficiaries of the projects. A list of annual project reports for 2019 from GCF indicates that out of 53 GCF supported projects 22 were supported by UNDP only followed by FAO and other international agencies. A similar pattern is observed for GEF and this concern has been raised by the CSOs repeatedly. A 2020 GEF review report admits that local and national agencies and domestic consultants who had to step in for monitoring in the absence of international consultants during the pandemic, have done a better job in reaching out to beneficiaries and communities and organized more local level consultations.

Therefore, resource mobilization and mechanisms facilitating financial flows to the global south should include capacity building and empowerment of the global south governments and partners rather than feeding the coffers of the UN agencies. More importantly, UN agencies should serve member states and not compete with them for financial resources.  Resource mobilization mechanisms need to transform so that their focus is not simply on increasing financial flows but critically on enabling easier access and greater agency by the Global South to these resources.   


By Souparna Lahiri (GFC), Yemi Katerere (ACBA)
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