The Green Climate Fund, (GCF) a United Nations-affiliated piggy-bank intended to finance climate change projects around the world, is determined to win sweeping U.N.-style immunities from prosecutions for its global operations–even though the U.S., its biggest contributor, opposes the idea, and the U.N. itself says its own diplomatic immunities can’t cover the outfit.
The immunities issue could well spark even deeper opposition from Republican lawmakers in next year’s Congress to the Obama Administration’s aggressive climate change policies–which include a recent $3 billion pledge to the Fund.
“We would definitely be opposed to any extension of immunity to the Fund,” said a senior aide to Republican Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma, who will chair the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works starting in January.
“What do they need protection from?” he asked. “In essence, they are doing business development projects. If you look at the way millions of people do transactions across national borders, they do it without immunity and very successfully.”
Apparently undeterred, fund officials told Fox News that they are now trying to hammer out “bilateral agreement templates” that could be laboriously negotiated with each country where it operates—a total that could eventually reach the great majority of the U.N.’s 193 members.
The Fund has already negotiated one agreement of immunity—with its new host country, South Korea, as a condition of moving its headquarters there last year.
If the GCF succeeds in its broader negotiations, not only billions but eventually trillions of dollars in climate funding activities could fall outside the scope of criminal and civilian legal actions, as well as outside examination, as the Fund, which currently holds $10 billion in funding and pledges, expands its ambitions.
The shield would cover all documentation as well as the words and actions of officials and consultants involved in the activity documentation—even after they move on to other jobs. As a tasty side-benefit, the “privileges” attached to such “privileges and immunities,” as they are known in diplomatic parlance, mean that employees get their salaries tax-free.
Just why the GCF needs the sweeping protections is not exactly clear. In response to questions from Fox News, Michel Smitall, a Fund spokesman, provided mostly opaque answers.
“Privileges and immunities are intended to facilitate GCF activities in countries in which it operates and the GCF’s ability to use contributions by donor countries in an effective and efficient manner that serves the objectives agreed by its member countries,” he said.
Smitall added that it is “premature” to give out any information on the specific scope of privileges and immunities, because these “would be negotiated bilaterally with countries in which the GCF operates.”
The immunities, however, “are expected to cover a range of issues,” he said, “such as protecting GCF staff members acting in their official capacity and facilitating their official travel and protecting taxpayer dollars contributed by donor countries.”
The GCF, he added, “functions in a transparent manner, with strong oversight by its [24-member] Board. To the extent that there are civil or criminal actions against the GCF, we would work closely with the authorities of the relevant country.”
Smitall’s statements, of reassurance however, did not cover the prospect that in many developing countries, those same national authorities may well be direct or indirect partners in the activities the Fund is financing, or the fact that national authorities in many of the developing countries where the Fund hopes to operate are spectacularly corrupt.
The assurances apparently have also failed to win over Obama Administration officials (the U.S. is a GCF Board member). “The Green Climate Fund is an independent institution wiht an independent Board and Secretariat, which is by design separate from the United Nations,” a U.S. Treasury official told Fox News.
Treasury officials did not answer, however, other emailed Fox News questions about whether other countries supported the U.S. position, and about U.S. views on the GCF’s new country-by-country approach.
The British government, which has recently given $1.2 billion to the GCF through its Department for International Development (DFID), is staying close-mouthed about the immunities issue. “The GCF Board will be deliberating the issue of privileges and immunities in 2015 and UK will engage in those discussions,” a DFID spokeswoman told Fox News.
The GFC’s determined pursuit of immunity highlights the broad zone of legal ambiguity that is proliferating in the era of international action against climate change, led by organizations operating under the aegis of the United Nations without being explicitly part of it.