BARCELONA, March 1 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A global climate fund set up by the United Nations has approved just over $1 billion in new support for 23 projects to help developing countries reduce heat-trapping emissions and adapt to a warming planet.
The funding, agreed at a meeting of the Green Climate Fund (GCF) board in South Korea this week, is the highest amount it has approved in one sitting.
The fund - to which countries have pledged more than $10 billion - also adopted a landmark policy to protect indigenous people who often live in or near forests, where the fund plans to back conservation projects.
"This is a sign of willingness of the GCF to recognise, respect and promote the rights of indigenous peoples in climate actions," said Tunga Bhadra Rai, who comes from Nepal's indigenous Rai community.
Groups that worked on the policy said it would help countries receiving GCF money to include indigenous peoples in climate policies and programmes, while preventing negative impacts of those activities on their rights.
One new project, led by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization and the Paraguay government, will support a shift to sustainable forest management to reduce tree loss and improve quality of life for some 17,000 families, many of them indigenous, in eastern Paraguay.
The effort received a $25 million GCF grant.
Swedish diplomat Lennart Båge, one of two new board co-chairs appointed this week, said the adoption of the indigenous people's policy and another on environmental and social considerations was an "important step" towards completing the policy framework of the fund, which began allocating cash in 2015.
The GCF now has a portfolio of 76 projects and programmes, to which it has committed about $3.7 billion. The fund aims to help countries develop on a low-emission and climate-resilient path, although the vast majority of the cash has yet to reach the ground.
The new projects approved at the meeting that ended on Thursday include efforts to build water resilience in Grenada and Barbados and set up financial instruments for energy-efficient cities in Brazil.
They also include a credit line for rooftop solar systems in India, a clean cooking programme in Bangladesh, and help for rural communities in northern Rwanda to overcome climate pressures.
The board meeting this week delayed a decision on adopting an updated policy on gender equality and social inclusion after board members from three countries - Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Cuba - raised objections over its wording on sexual orientation.
There was also a call to insert language so that application of the policy would depend on a country's stance on the issues, observers said.
Civil society groups were concerned that allowing such caveats could set a bad precedent, enabling national agencies to ignore gender balance and the interests of LGBT or disabled people in their GCF-funded work.
"That is basically a slap in the face in terms of an acknowledgement that human rights and women's rights apply internationally and in the same way," said Liane Schalatek, associate director at the Heinrich Boell Foundation North America, who was at the board meeting.
The fund already has an interim gender policy, and there have been practical moves to apply that, such as requiring a new private-sector project that aims to help African farmers adapt to climate change put in place a plan to ensure it reaches both women and men.