By Megan Rowling and Alister Doyle
BARCELONA/OSLO, March 2 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The fledgling Green Climate Fund, which aims to become a major channel for finance to tackle climate change in poorer nations, will need more staff if it is to meet a goal of allocating $2.5 billion this year for clean energy and adaptation projects, its executive director said.
Héla Cheikhrouhou told the Thomson Reuters Foundation she will ask the fund's board to approve an increase of between 80 and 120 new staff when it meets next week. The higher number would triple the size of the fund's secretariat.
"The fund needs more staff because things are growing so fast, and the fund has aspirational targets for the work," said Cheikhrouhou, who will leave in September at the end of a three-year term as the fund's first leader.
The $10.3 billion Green Climate Fund (GCF), set up under U.N. climate change negotiations, approved its first set of eight projects in November before the Paris climate summit. That funding, totalling $168 million, has yet to be paid out.
As the GCF has started operations, its need for personnel specialised in areas such as managing risk or compliance has grown, Cheikhrouhou said.
"We need to have the tools and we need to have the people in place before we scale up further," she added in an interview from Songdo in South Korea where the fund is based.
Other international funds have a far higher number of staff, she noted. The GCF secretariat has 56 regular positions, most of them filled, and works with consultants on a temporary basis.
"If you compare us to other independent global funds of our scale, the Global Fund (to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria) has 650 staff and GAVI (the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation) more than 200," she said.
Currently the secretariat does not have enough staff to develop multiple sets of projects simultaneously, she noted.
That is one reason why an upcoming March 8-10 board meeting will not consider new project proposals but rather focus on policies and administrative processes that have yet to be sewn up.
As a result, the three other board meetings scheduled from June onwards this year face the challenging task of approving up to $2.5 billion in project funding.
The money for projects agreed in November - ranging from green bonds to spur energy efficiency in Latin America and the Caribbean to improved warning of extreme weather in Malawi - will not be handed over until later this year, when all the conditions for payment should be in place, Cheikhrouhou said.
One hold-up is over whether the fund could be held legally liable if a project goes wrong. It is working with more than 50 countries to put in place bilateral agreements to protect itself, including where the first projects will be implemented.
The only money the GCF has paid out to countries so far is relatively small amounts from a total pot of around $30 million to help them get ready to receive project funding.
The executive director said it was too early to say whether the fund could meet the board's goal to allocate $2.5 billion in 2016.
"There are a lot of factors that will impact our ability to achieve that," she said.
But the fund had delivered on its targets so far, including getting up and running before the Paris conference, she added.
"It's like when you have the best student in class, you keep expecting more and more. It's difficult to tell really what will be achievable for this year," she added.
Zaheer Fakir of South Africa, co-chair of the GCF board, reaffirmed the $2.5 billion goal. "It's feasible. It's not that much," he said, compared to disbursements by other major funds.
Next week's board meeting is also tasked with discussing a strategic plan and deciding whether to accredit 13 new agencies that have sought authorisation to implement projects, on top of the 20 that have already been approved.
In addition, it will consider whether to boost the resources available to help countries qualify for GCF money, as well as three requests for funding to develop project proposals.
Cheikhrouhou said this type of support was important to allow developing nations to access the fund's resources directly rather than working through international organisations.
State and non-government agencies in developing countries need help to be able to expand the size of the projects they can implement themselves, she said, noting that such country-level institutions aim to become the fund's main conduit.
Cheikhrouhou said the new director and other experts the GCF would recruit must demonstrate that "we are the instrument for developing countries to shift the way they are growing" onto a cleaner pathway so global warming can be kept to "well below" 2 degrees Celsius, as agreed in Paris.
"Business as usual is not going to cut it," she said.
(Reporting by Megan Rowling in Barcelona and Alister Doyle in Oslo; editing by Laurie Goering. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)