(Formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

  • How will China’s ambitious new Silk Road impact climate change?

    China is pushing the largest economic development project the world has ever seen.

    Stretching through Southeast Asia, Africa, and Europe, the Belt and Road project is a sophisticated network of corridors, ports, power plants, and industrial infrastructure that promises to share the benefits of more than $1 trillion in economic development with communities and governments across 65 nations.

    But such a gargantuan project also has the potential to severely disrupt the environment and contribute to climate change, and at a crucial time when the world is debating how to limit impacts and stick to promises under the Paris Agreement. A record surge in atmopsheric CO2 levels has added fresh impetus to the implementation of the accord as governments convene in Bonn, Germany next week for the next round of talks, COP23.

    While US leadership on climate issues has waned under the sceptical administration of President Donald Trump, China has, to some extent, looked to fill the void, becoming a leader in renewable energy and vowing to honour its climate commitments.

    However, the massive Chinese-funded projects along its modern-day Silk Road will also facilitate the circulation and use of climate-damaging fossil fuels. So, given that Paris Agreement goals can only be met through a drastic reduction in global emissions, an important question remains: Is the ambitious Belt and Road project the start of a new, greener development model – or will it just promote unchecked growth?

    All about the oil

    Much like the ancient Silk Road, the Belt and Road initiative is, at its core, a network of roads and maritime routes designed to facilitate trade, increase transport efficiency, and in some cases, bypass geopolitical deadlocks.

    The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), worth $62 billion, hinges on one of the most strategic nodes of the Belt and Road landscape: the deepwater port of Gwadar on the Arabian Sea. Through improvements of the port and the roads connecting the Pakistani coast to the Chinese region of Xinjiang, China hopes to achieve the double goal of easing tensions along the maritime routes of the South China Sea and increasing shipping efficiency.

    Once the port is fully operational, analysts say China will be able to halve the length of time it takes to import a barrel of oil from Saudi Arabia – where 16 percent of China’s oil imports originate.

    "It currently takes 25 days for a barrel of oil to go all the way through to China,” said Henry Tillman, chairman and chief executive officer at the investment bank Grisons Peak. “Gwadar port would cut that time in half for every one of the 1.4 billion of barrels that China imports daily.”

    Carbon-heavy contradictions

    But China’s Pakistan plans show the Belt and Road project’s inherent contradictions when it comes to environmental impacts.

    The CPEC blueprint is peppered with renewable projects; but carbon dioxide-emitting coal power plants still form a major role. Most importantly, the Pakistan project is poised to facilitate the circulation of fossil fuels, which remain vital to China's economy.

    "I don't think that this climate policy commitment China has taken under the Paris Agreement… is strong enough in the context of what they plan for the Belt and Road,” said Susanne Droege, a climate policy and international trade expert at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs. "It's such an economy-driven agenda".

    An analysis by the Chinese NGO Global Environmental Institute estimates that China was involved in 240 coal-fired power projects in 25 of the Belt and Road countries by the end of 2016. With 52 projects in the pipeline, Chinese-funded coal projects in Belt and Road countries alone accounted for 12.66 percent of the world’s planned projects; the 114 plants already in operation represent 4.5 percent of the coal currently being burned.

    But while China continues to burn coal, renewable energy projects are also mushrooming along the Belt and Road.

    Clean energy transition

    At home, China has learnt the dangers of relying solely on fossil fuels.

    Over the past 30 years, the country fuelled its booming growth through the unrestrained use of carbon, quickly becoming the world’s biggest emitter and plunging into a dramatic water crisis. In recent years, however, the country has boosted its renewable energy capacity in a bid to clean up its own air and soil. It now profits from exporting clean energy technology and expertise.

    “China has changed a lot when it comes to environmental protection,” said Ruilian Zhang, a researcher with Queensland University in Australia who studies the environmental and social impacts of the Belt and Road.

    “Because the Chinese government and the whole society are already painfully aware of the negative effects of pollution, it makes sense for us to help build a sustainable society not only in China, but also in the investment activities along the partner countries.”

    But Belt and Road’s heavy investments in fossil fuel production and facilitation may suggest a parallel set of standards when it comes to environmental concerns abroad.

    "China has today a well-developed body of regulation for the protection of the environment,” said David Shinn, professor of international affairs at The George Washington University and a former US ambassador to Ethiopia. "The problem is that in terms of actions outside of China, they are all voluntary."

    Shinn said state-owned companies, which mostly deal with the oil and gas sector, have a better record of environmental compliance, but they are also lower in number. In Ethiopia, 90 percent of the operating Chinese firms are privately owned.

    It’s also hard to tell whether China may be applying double standards when operating internationally, said Zhang.

    “Our enterprises going abroad tend to apply sustainability measures developed in China that might not be as suitable in a different country,” Zhang said. He explains that often standards have to be adapted to different contexts and are therefore hard to compare.

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    Man speaking at conference.
    Zhao Yun/UN Photo
    UN Secretary-General António Guterres addresses the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation in Beijing in May 2017.

    Joining hands

    China’s official statements on the Belt and Road initiative have been dotted with vague wording encouraging green development.

    “We should promote ecological progress in conducting investment and trade, increase cooperation in conserving eco-environment, protecting biodiversity, and tackling climate change, and join hands to make the Silk Road an environment-friendly one,” the government stated in its Belt and Road “action plan”.

    At the moment, this vision remains “just a framework”, according to Zhang.

    China must still translate its vision into myriad policies, regulations, and measures guiding the implementation of a “green Belt and Road” – and this won’t happen overnight, even if projects are already well underway.

    “What we need now is time,” Zhang said.

    Even if China has taken huge strides in becoming a leader in renewable energy, Shinn doubts that climate impacts and the environment will be major imperatives for the Belt and Road agenda, at least in the near future.

    "I suspect that such claims are more propaganda than reality,” he said.

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    How will China’s ambitious new Silk Road impact climate change?
  • Trump’s climate pullout could spell disaster for developing nations

    US President Donald Trump's decision to start the withdrawal process from the Paris Agreement could come at a high price for the developing world, setting back years of progress not only on climate change but also on poverty eradication, experts warn.

    Industry insiders anticipate that the pullout may weaken the competitive advantage enjoyed by US businesses in the fast-growing Global South because most countries will operate and invest within the Paris deal framework.

    The "America first" approach signalled by Trump, which may involve seeking bilateral trade deals as an alternative to the pact, could leave vulnerable countries prone to resource plundering, deeper poverty, and conflict over water and land, warned a leading social development and climate consultant, who preferred to remain anonymous.

    Within the Paris Agreement "you have rules, a process for evaluating progress,” the consultant said. “It's a lot easier and more regularised. Why would you choose to work with a rogue country with its own agenda which you can't trust politically?"

    The source explained that while companies may feel a responsibility towards protecting the environment and the rights of local communities, they are not directly accountable under the Paris Agreement.

    “Each company has its own ethical code of conduct and must respect human rights and the environment,” said the consultant. “But ultimately, when it comes to reducing emissions and adapting to the impacts of climate change, it's the country that is trading with a particular company that has to report progress to the UN.” 

    Therefore, the responsibility to oversee whether businesses respect the Paris mission falls on the country that hosts their operations. But if countries are highly vulnerable, they might not be able to turn down a 'dirty' business offer.

    Out of the deal and "without proper oversight, companies could potentially fall back on exploitative 'business as usual' practices, exacerbating conflicts over scarce resources and failing to support the host country in its climate adaptation efforts," the consultant said.

    Held hostage?

    Neil de Beer, former secretary general of the Organisation for African Business Development consultancy, told IRIN that resource plundering is already happening, particularly in the mining and agricultural sectors. He believes the US withdrawal from the Paris Agreement will only make things worse.

    "You do get businesses that want to reduce their emissions and gain carbon credits," he conceded. “But, for what we know, an American company may now come and say 'my president left the Paris Agreement, we don't want to reduce our emissions, but if you don't do business with us you lose our money'.

    “That's not right,” he added, concluding that poor African countries that still rely on the United States to bring in financial investments and export their local resources and products to American customers will be “kept hostage”.

    However, American businesses such as Apple, Goldman Sachs, and Disney, just to name a few, have been very critical of the Trump administration's move and have vowed to act independently from the federal government.

    Take the We Mean Business coalition, which calls on the private sector to lead on climate action. Born after the Paris Agreement, the group counts 568 members with a combined revenue of $8.1 trillion, and $20.7 trillion of assets.

    "They are talking in terms of shared risks now," said Clare Shakya, climate change group director at the International Institute for Environment and Development. "Businesses recognise that within the countries that represent their source of goods they are subject to climate impacts too. In order to keep running, they need to be part of the solution and reduce the impact on the supply chain and on their workforce." Not only [do] local workers run factories and mines, but they also are consumers that businesses increasingly want to cater to.”

    New leaders?

    "Climate leadership makes business sense for American companies and remains in sync with the approach of other countries," said David Wei, climate director at the non-profit Business for Social Responsibility.

    He pointed out that individual big companies are already taking practical commitments to reduce emissions in their global supply chain. "Walmart’s Project Gigaton aims to eliminate one billion tonnes of carbon equivalent from their supply chain by 2030 – equivalent to the annual emissions of Germany," he said. "Similarly, Hewlett Packard's recent commitment to remove 100 million tonnes from its supply chain is equivalent to the annual emissions of Greece."

    However, despite the determination and defiance of private investors and other countries of the UNFCCC, leaving the Paris Agreement is set to damage US businesses and the most vulnerable regions they operate in. "As a global externality, climate change requires a truly international agreement," said Wei. "A set of bilateral agreements, for example on carbon tariffs, would leave all countries worse off."

    And, as Jonah Busch, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development, pointed out, withdrawing from the Paris Agreement is only one of several counterproductive things the Trump administration is doing on the issue.

    "They are zeroing out budgets left and right for climate,” Busch said. “The president is using executive orders to roll back climate regulations, and the pattern indicates that the climate will be not a high priority in bilateral negotiations either."

    While many countries will remain reliant on the United States because of its sheer weight on the global marketplace, experts agree that other big economies that have reasserted their climate commitments will become increasingly more attractive.

    After the United States pulled out of the Kyoto Protocol in 2001, other major polluters used the move as an excuse to do less, Busch noted. "But what we are seeing now is with the US walking away from Paris other countries are rallying around leadership from China and the EU to do more."

    "If you're a country in the Pacific that's in danger of going under water, or a country in sub-Saharan Africa looking at hotter temperatures making it even more difficult to grow food, then you're gonna be less likely to deal amicably with the US over this decision,” said Busch. And that, he believes, "could well extend from government to businesses."

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    (TOP PHOTO: Abdon Choque Flores looks out over what remains of Lake Poopó. Bolivia's second largest lake has dried up as the result of a prolonged drought. CREDIT: Amy Booth/IRIN)

    Trump’s climate pullout could spell disaster for developing nations
  • Trump budget cuts would cripple clean energy in developing nations

    If US President Donald Trump has his way, developing countries will struggle more than ever to clean up their energy programmes.

    Clean energy innovation is one of the main casualties of Trump's detailed budget proposal for 2018, released yesterday. It is US research networks that drive the low-carbon innovations that many developing countries benefit from. The budget also includes sharp cuts to international aid as well as spending on climate change adaptation programmes.

    Congressional representatives are almost certain to hit back hard on many of Trump’s proposals, so this document does not represent the final outcome of budget negotiations. But the Republican-dominated Congress may, in the end, approve steep cuts to climate programmes that have long been in Trump’s line of fire.
     

    ‘Anti-scientific’

    The text is seen as "a continuation of the deeply anti-scientific philosophy of this administration”, said Rachel Cleetus, lead economist with the Union of Concerned Scientists, an advocacy group.
     
    That philosophy could cripple efforts by developing countries to reduce emissions by switching to clean energy. Entrepreneurship projects in countries in Africa, for example, rely heavily on research and development in the US. When the cuts come in, some projects will need to be scaled back and others may end entirely.
     
    "As the US engages less in research and innovation around clean technology that will have an impact further down the line on many developing economies," said Rob Bradley, director of knowledge and research for the NDC Partnership.
     
    Bradley's initiative, launched last year at the UN climate talks in Marrakech, Morocco, is aimed at connecting developed and developing countries and sharing scientific knowledge on emissions reduction to meet universal climate goals. The Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) are the pledges UN climate framework members tabled under the landmark December 2015 Paris Agreement.
     
    Each country has its own unique set of mitigation and adaptation goals, but in the developing world their achievement still depends on money and research from richer nations. For example, while a drastic reduction in the cost of solar power (for the first time last year the cheapest form of new energy) has been in part driven by mass production, research has also played a major part in the process.
     
    "In its National Labs – the 17 flagship research centres operating under the Department of Energy – the US really has an outstanding track record of innovation," said Bradley. “And were they to significantly shrink their activities, that would definitely be a loss hard to replace elsewhere."
     
    Bradley admits that investment in clean energy is likely to keep growing globally despite the proposed cuts in the US, with emerging powers such as China and India seizing the opportunity to become global climate leaders. But he is convinced that the gap left by the US in clean tech research would reverberate for a long time on the global energy industry.
     
    Cleetus was of a similar mindset: "What's really sad is that this is not a big amount of money – it actually is a very small amount of money – and yet it's really crucial for helping developing countries get on a low carbon pathway and helping them cope with the impacts of climate change.” 
     

    The cuts

     
    Trump is proposing cuts to research programmes at the Department of Energy that amount to 18 percent compared to last year – the result of a $1.6 billion reduction in the overall budget and an additional $1.4 billion being moved from general energy research to nuclear weapon technology. Within their broad research remit, the programmes facing cuts also drive innovation in off-grid energy production and energy storage – key for emerging economies struggling with energy access. 
     
    Ideas with strong benefits for the developing world such as improved batteries or cheap wind power would be stalled if Congress was to allow the proposed elimination of the Advanced Research Projects Agency - Energy (ARPA-E) to pass into law. The agency, which traditionally enjoys bipartisan support, is tasked with kick-starting "high risk, high reward" technologies the private sector typically shies away from. Killing it would save American taxpayers a total of only $316 million – a fraction of the extra $1.4 billion being added to the National Nuclear Security Administration’s budget.
     
    "The idea [behind the ARPA-E model] is for the government to reduce the financial risks associated with new technologies," said Emily Fritze, business development manager with Powerhouse, which focuses on launching and growing solar companies around the world.
     
    Only then can the private sector “scale it up”, she said. “In fact, this is the best example of successful public-private partnership."
     
    An excerpt of the White House's 2018 budget proposal shows some of US President Donald Trump's intended cuts to climate change programs
    White House
    An excerpt of the White House's 2018 budget proposal shows some of US President Donald Trump's intended cuts to climate change programs
     
    Finance for climate change aid and preparedness is also on the chopping board, with the proposed elimination of the Green Climate Fund contribution and the Global Climate Change Initiative. The initiative, a partnership between the State Department and the US Agency for International Development, would be gutted as part of Trump's campaign pledge to put "America first". Total investments in climate change action targeted for elimination amount to $1.59 billion.
     
    Through its climate action programme, USAID addresses climate extremes, such as droughts and floods, as well as ocean acidification, sea-level rise, and other slow onset changes that affect people’s lives.
     
    Should Congress approve a budget that undermines science, said Cleetus, "this would have a major impact on the work that USAID and the State Department are doing in the developing world, from providing capacity-building to technology transfer and more."
     
    She highlighted the importance of incorporating adaptation action plans into development programmes in countries already suffering the consequences of climate change.
     
    "If you see what's unfolding in Africa right now in terms of drought and food shortages, you can see how all these things are interconnected,” she said. “I think it's a big mistake for the Trump administration to think that they can separate climate out and all the other work on health and development can proceed unimpeded."
     
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    (TOP PHOTO: US President Donald Trump at a campaign rally in 2015. CREDIT: Michael Vadon/Flickr)
    Trump budget cuts would cripple clean energy in developing nations
  • Trump could do more damage by staying in the Paris climate deal

    The United States could start the process of withdrawing from the Paris Agreement on climate change as early as this week. But some experts believe the alternative President Donald Trump is considering – simply downgrading the country’s climate targets – could ultimately prove even more damaging for the environment.
     
    During his campaign, Trump said he planned to “cancel” the agreement, because it would cripple the domestic energy industry and kill thousands of jobs. But his administration is reportedly divided between the two options. 
     
    On 30 April, Trump told a rally in Pennsylvania that he would make a decision within two weeks. 
     
    "From an environmental perspective I'd feel more worried about a downward adjustment of the targets," said Michael Traut, a senior researcher at the Tyndall Centre for climate change research in Manchester. "There is the risk of rendering the Paris Agreement almost meaningless."
     
    Traut and others said scaling back US targets to reduce emissions could set a precedent for other countries to do the same. 
     
    The agreement is currently little more than a blueprint designed to accommodate the different needs of the 192 states that have signed on, along with the 28 members of the European Union. While its flexibility was key to get on board a greater number of countries, it is also its main vulnerability. 
     
    A number of key points are still under discussion, from transparency to a comprehensive set of rules for the implementation of the pledges, known as Nationally Determined Contributions. This lack of detail leaves plenty of room for interpretation and could lead other nations to backtrack.
     
    While a full US withdrawal would be expected to spark a severe diplomatic backlash around the world, and would likely lead to retaliatory measures such as tariffs on carbon, tweaking the pledges would be a way of undermining the process more subtly.
     
    "It's in this sense that staying in and misbehaving has the potential of being worse than a clean pullout," said Gabriel Marty, a former negotiator for France’s presidency of the 21st Conference of Parties, which is the group of nations that hammered out the deal signed in Paris in 2015 under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.
     
    "I can speak from experience that the UNFCCC process is quite fragile, and the critical consensus built during COP21 will not resist long if the US wants to throw a wrench in the negotiations,” he said.
     
    On Monday, a group of lobbyists released a letter urging Trump to take action against the agreement. They also suggested exploring an even more dramatic action – they want him to withdraw completely from the UNFCC. The “nuclear option”, as it has become known, may be less likely than withdrawing from the Paris Agreement or scaling back commitments, but it could happen.
     

    Parsing the language

     
    The worldwide debate about a country’s rights to modify its commitments under the Paris Agreement stems from Article 4.11, a short but pivotal paragraph that states: "A Party may at any time adjust its existing nationally determined contribution with a view to enhancing its level of ambition." According to some legal experts in the US, this means that a country may choose to modify or even scale down its emission reduction targets without breaching the agreement's principles.
     
    However, watering down ambitions would also set a dangerous precedent. The sum of the current global pledges goes nowhere near keeping global warming below 2 degrees Celsius by 2020, so the agreement's architects enshrined a so-called “ratchet mechanism” in the text. This clause underpins a stock-taking system meant to monitor progress and encourage countries to increase their commitment every five years.  
     
    "If the US stays in but successfully challenges the 'no backsliding' provision, it could make it very difficult for the stocktaking process to work efficiently," said Marty.
     
    Saleemul Huq, director of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development at Bangladesh's Independent University, echoed Marty's views: "I welcome the US leaving us. It will give us impetus. The very fact that [Trump] is questioning climate change has unleashed an enormous amount of energy from governors of states, to mayors, to scientists.”
     
    Huq told IRIN that should Trump’s administration decide to stay in the agreement, the US could "cause us more problems in the long run”.
     
    “Let them leave us and go in the opposite direction and let us move forward together,” he said.
     
    Having been involved in the negotiation process for decades, the Bangladeshi scientist is now convinced that the winds of climate action have changed, and the real impact is happening at a regional and city level. Clean energy is taking off in an increasing number of US states, while countries such as China and India are investing heavily in solar and wind capacity. 
     
    Huq said a US withdrawal would be preferable, because it would create a leadership gap that others could fill, while Trump “can only hinder progress at a federal level, which actually in the US context is very limited”.
     

    Domino effect

     
    Still others worry about the impact of a full US withdrawal. 
     
    While climate action is spreading and the business opportunities of a low carbon economy are attracting a growing number of investors, the Paris Agreement remains a crucial tool to plan for the long term. It provides stability and a framework for countries to work together.
     
    "How would other countries respond to a US pullout? That's a very open question," acknowledged Michael Burger, executive director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University. "It could trigger a dreadful domino effect."
     
    Using Article 4.11 to relax the targets could have dangerous ramifications too, he said: "Would that lead to allowing other countries to ratchet down their own ambitions? Absolutely. It absolutely provides cover, provides legal justification."
     
    The vast majority of developing countries are already struggling with their climate commitments. Many pledges are tied to foreign support, which could fall short if Trump follows up on his promise to slash the US aid budget. Governments in Africa and Asia that are still counting on coal-fired power plants to reduce energy poverty would likely welcome the opportunity to water down their pledges.
     
    That – along with the US reneging on its commitments – could prove disastrous. 
     
    Climate Advisers, a consultancy group, estimates that Trump’s policies alone could pump more than half a gigaton of additional climate pollution into the atmosphere by 2025. The total amount of carbon that humankind can still release without warming the planet by more than two degrees Celsius is estimated to be around 2,900 gigatons of CO2 equivalent.
     
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    (TOP PHOTO: Donald Trump speaking to supporters at an election campaign rally in Fountain Hills, Arizona. CREDIT: Gage Skidmore/Flickr)
     
    Trump could do more damage by staying in the Paris climate deal
  • Paris Discord: Is Trump unravelling the climate change agreement?

    US President Donald Trump’s campaign promise to “cancel the Paris Agreement” is one step closer to reality, after leaders from the Group of 20 richest economies backtracked on pledges to allocate $100 billion per year by 2020 for climate change response.
     
    The trend will hit hardest in countries that are not only vulnerable to climate change, but are also too poor to finance mitigation strategies themselves.
     
    Just days before this past weekend’s summit in Germany, Trump budget director Mick Mulvaney told reporters that the administration would not fund climate change programmes as it considers them “a waste of your money”. Finance ministers and central bank governors from G20 countries appear to be falling in line behind the new leadership of the world’s largest economy.
     
    In last year’s final statement, leaders stressed the importance of fulfilling commitments to providing “financial resources to assist developing countries with respect to both mitigation and adaptation actions in line with Paris outcomes”.
     
    In contrast, the focus on climate change, and indeed any mention of the Paris Agreement, were conspicuously absent from the communiqué issued at the end of this year’s meeting.
     
    An earlier draft of the communiqué obtained by Bloomberg cited “scarce public resources” as the reason behind the U-turn on climate finance. Instead, members shifted the emphasis to development banks and private investors, although even that language was removed from the final version.
     
    The US alone had pledged $3 billion to the Green Climate Fund, which is the main financing tool under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, and it delivered $1 billion under the administration of former president Barack Obama. The other $2 billion will not materialise under Trump, and the GCF will be left with a massive deficit if other countries follow suit.
     
    The Paris Agreement itself is now at risk, despite years of tough negotiations that finally produced the accord in 2015, bringing together 196 nations and uniting them in the fight against climate change and its impacts. 
     
     
    "Developed countries are failing to raise and distribute what they promised,” Trinto Mugangu, the negotiator and co-author of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s climate pledge, told IRIN by email.
     
     

    Funding shortfall

     
    A retreat from public financing for climate change mitigation strategies will not only shrink the overall budget; it will also disproportionately affect developing nations afflicted by poor governance and corruption.
     
    That’s because public funds include initiatives to strengthen the pillars of the economy, even though such outcomes don’t offer an immediate return on investment. These include programmes intended to build governance capacity, cut down on corruption, and develop infrastructure.
     
    Unless those measures are in place already, private financers are less likely to fund developing countries. They already perceive renewable energy and green infrastructure as highly risky, and they are even more unlikely to invest in countries governed corruptly or lacking a robust policy framework that regulates how businesses operate.
     
    The situation will likely lead to a paradox: Some countries most in need of climate financing won’t be able to get it, and will therefore suffer more due to climate change; but the effects of climate change will in turn undermine security and good governance, which are needed to access funding in the first place.
     
    Take Congo, which Transparency International ranks 156 out of 176 countries in its annual survey of perceptions of corruption in those states. 
     
    An investigation by Greenpeace found that the Congolese government had repeatedly breached its own moratorium on deforestation. It signed concessions to logging companies while at the same time receiving funds from the Central African Forest Initiative. This multi-donor programme coordinated by the UN Development Programme under REDD+ aims to reduce carbon emissions by having developed countries pay less developed nations to protect their forests, which absorb carbon dioxide.
     
    What were the consequences once the scandal was exposed? Not much.
     
    *The former secretary-general of the ministry of environment who was responsible for REDD+ was imprisoned but is now free; the case is still open and none of the money has been paid back, according to Brice Boehmer, who coordinates the climate governance integrity programme at TI.
     
    "We fight to end the impunity of these people, but often, once a case is closed, things quickly get back to the business as usual,” he said.
     
    Congo is far from alone in its struggles with environmental corruption. Indonesia established a moratorium on logging in 2011, but continued to lose forests at a rate 1.3 million hectares a year, according to Global Forest Watch. A TI report last year examined the effect that corruption had on the ability of Cameroon, Ghana, Zambia, and Zimbabwe to access REDD+ funding.
     

    ‘Vicious circle’

     
    As the private sector takes on a stronger role in climate financing, companies are likely to adopt a more pragmatic approach and invest only in environments already ripe for revenue, rather than trying to improve governance.
     
    "We know that investors use our corruption index as a tool to assess the viability of a project in a certain country,” said Boehmer. "It's a vicious circle: Corruption prevents a country from developing, and as a result the place becomes less attractive for the green businesses that could ease its poverty."
     
    Of the nearly $22 billion Congo asked for to realise its Nationally Determined Contribution to the Paris Agreement, only $182 million has been allocated.  With a GDP of less than $500 per capita, the country can't develop without substantial help.
     
    "Mismanagement of public funds is a reality in [Congo]," said Alphonse Bangila, a consultant who oversees a government project for the production of biofuel from soybean and palm nuts to power rural areas.
     
    "The government is not doing enough to eradicate the problem, but it also lags behind in the planning and implementation of management structures for climate response," he told IRIN in an email.
     
    Mugangu, the Congolese climate pledge negotiator, said his country badly needs the capacity-building assistance provided by public funds like the GCF.
     
    "Developing countries lack the technical capacity to write up and implement mitigation projects with complicated calculations of carbon reduction benefits,” he said.
     
    Barbara Buchner, who heads the climate finance programme at the Climate Policy Initiative research institute, explained that businesses shy away from green investments when they don't have a clear picture of what technologies are available. For example, solar and wind are now much more efficient than just a few years ago and offer better return on investment, but investors still tend to perceive them as too risky or costly.
     
    Public funding, she said, is the backbone of the climate finance architecture, as it can be used to remove some of these barriers.
     
    “We are trying to create solutions to use public funding to leverage private investments at scale, so the GCF becomes an opportunity to unlock a much broader investment portfolio from other funders,” said Buchner.
     
    But with public funds now expected to fall sharply, climate mitigation in developing nations could slip far down the global economic agenda.
     
    The G20s change of heart on climate finance "is a major turning point in international cooperation”, said Bangila. "From now on, each country will have to address the climate issue according to its own economic interests (as opposed to a global strategy).”
     
    This attitude could lead countries to take another page from Trump’s playbook, he said: “Maybe we will come to believe that climate change is a hoax after all.”
     
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    (TOP PHOTO: Happier days - the end of the COP21 summit in Paris, December 2015. CREDIT: F. de La Mure/MAEDI)
     
    *(This story has been corrected to note that Congo's former secretary-general of the ministry of environment was in prison but is now free)
    Paris Discord: Is Trump unravelling the climate change agreement?
  • Kenyan slum activists build climate change resilience from the bottom up

    Living in the Kenyan slum of Mukuru is hard enough, but when it rains it’s downright miserable. Streets flood, sewage overflows, homes are inundated. 

    After each bout of torrential rain, Nairobi’s largest informal settlement is left a little shabbier, a little poorer, the community more insecure.

    Climate projections for East Africa suggests parts of the region will receive heavier rains in the future, which will impact the most vulnerable. In the case of the Kenyan capital, that means the 60 percent of its residents currently living in informal settlements.

    A walk through Mukuru is enough to appreciate the magnitude of the challenges. A courtyard turned into a pond by recent flash floods reflects the metal shacks surrounding it, now inaccessible until the water dries up. That could take weeks.

    Residents cross, tiptoeing on the rocks just visible above the water to reach the main street. A short walk ahead, a bridge over the nearby river leads to the other side of the slum, where the local school is. When the river bursts its banks, the bridge becomes inaccessible, sometimes for months, and kids miss their classes.

    Insecurity

    Finding solutions in Mukuru is especially difficult because it is built partially on private land, which traps residents in chronic land tenure insecurity: they could be evicted and lose what little they have at any time. This doesn’t encourage them to plan for the long-term. 

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    Mukuru slum, Nairobi
    Lou del Bello/IRIN
    When the river floods it get a lot worse

    Aware that climate change will magnify risks, slum activists from local universities and research institutions are teaming up to take action in Mukuru, working with the residents to build resilience, and develop legal and financial tools to force accountability from public authorities.

    Shadrack Mbaka, of Slum Dwellers International, is one of the brains behind the project – spurred on by the fact that “informal settlements [have] been cut out of the development plans” of the Nairobi City Council.

    SDI is partnering with Strathmore University, the International Development Research Centre, Nairobi University, the Katiba Institute and Muungano wa Wanavijiji, a slum dwellers’ network, to develop the research and come up with recommendations for upgrading Mukuru. 

    The lack of pipe-borne water and sanitation is one major issue. Of more than 800 households surveyed in Mukuru, just four percent had access to adequate bathrooms, only seven percent had proper toilets, and just 29 percent had adequate water provision.

    Christine Wayua makes a living for herself and her family by threading beads into colourful jewellery. She works from a bench outside her home in a narrow passage, off one of the main roads in Mukuru.

    “Whenever it rains it's a disaster for the communities living here,” she told IRIN. “There will be a lot of flooding and it's not just rainwater: it’s water mixed with sewage, and the water gets into the homes.” 

    That can lead to the spread of waterborne diseases, like cholera, which is common in Kenya’s slums.

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    Resident Christine Wayua strings beads in Mukuru
    Lou del Bello/IRIN
    Christine Wayua at work

    Profiling

    SDI and its partners are trying to tackle the community’s vulnerability from the bottom up, with the help of people like Wayua. 

    First they “profiled” Mukuru, counting people and households. Then they sat down with the residents to imagine a new, better design for the community’s infrastructure. With an agreed plan, they can engage the politicians, who had previously ignored their needs.

    Wayua is aware of climate change, and recognises it may exacerbate the problems the community already faces. But she is pragmatic, looking to focus instead on how to prepare for the future.

    In the case of Mukuru, she feels the issue boils down to land tenure. “We need more guarantees that we will be able to occupy this land in the future,” she explained.

    Mukuru’s coalition of activists are exploring a range of strategies to improve land tenure and property rights – including converting private holdings into community land, and then establishing a Community Land Trust. The CLT will help defend constitutional rights to housing, water, health, and sanitation.

    Watch IRIN's film on Mukuru, The Right to Stay

    Another approach is to foster liveability, safety and affordability. This includes initiatives to improve service delivery through “community partnerships” and “community-based management structures”. One target is the cartels, whose control means prices for services in Makuru, as in other slums, is higher than in Nairobi’s middle-class suburbs.

    “It's fundamental that people realise that the community is theirs to protect and upgrade,” said Wayua.

    She gave the example of a garbage point, designated as a place where the community could collectively dispose of their rubbish: “But still you will find that no one really wants to carry their garbage there, so the nearest open space they see is where they are going to dump it.”

    Mbaka says that engagement is growing, and will lead to behavioral change. Even garbage collection could, eventually, be a success.

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    Trying to make ends meet in Mukuru
    Lou del Bello/IRIN
    Trying to make ends meet in Mukuru

    Urban poor

    Responding to the “complex realities in Mukuru” could help develop the “long-term solutions” to benefit the rest of Kenya’s informal settlements, says a Strathmore University study.

    There are 158 overcrowded informal settlements dotting Nairobi. They host the majority of the city’s population, but take up just 1.6 percent of the city’s land area. 

    The land is marginal and disaster prone, and houses are typically flimsy. But what really drives vulnerability for the urban poor is “the lack of risk preparedness, and the capacity to respond when something bad happens”, said David Dodman, an expert on resilience with the International Institute for Environment and Development. 

    “You can't separate the process of rapid urban population growth, which means that more people are located in increasingly hazardous sites, from the actual changes in the climate that may be making those sites even more risky.”

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    TOP PHOTO: Mukuru after the rains. By Lou del Bello

    Kenyan slum activists build climate change resilience from the bottom up
    This reporting is part of a special project that explores the impact of climate change on the food security and livelihoods of small-scale farmers in Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal and Zimbabwe
  • Climate action gathering shakes off the Trump effect

    If last year's climate talks in Paris saw UN member states designing a (climate-friendly) engine, this year in Marrakesh they have been tinkering with it, figuring out how to bring it up to speed.

     

    Despite the setback of the US presidential elections that delivered the White House to climate change denialist Donald Trump, countries attending the just-ended talks in Morocco were at least united in purpose.

     

    But the task ahead is daunting. In Paris, the parties committed to a long-term goal of curbing global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. The more aspirational 1.5 degree goal seems further out of reach with every passing year.

     

    If the US, the world’s second largest greenhouse gas emitter, walks away, it will only become more difficult.

     

    2016 is poised to become the hottest year on record, surpassing the previous record set in 2015. In vulnerable parts of the world, the impacts of climate change are already major drivers of humanitarian crises.

     

    "We are witnessing first-hand how climate change is heaping poverty on top of poverty and making development harder and more expensive," said Tracy Carty, Oxfam's climate lead. "In Africa alone this year, we’ve seen an additional 40 million people facing hunger because of climate change and El Niño."

     

    The two-week meeting in Marrakesh marked the start of a process meant to bring all the countries up to speed on climate action – linked also to progress on economic development and poverty eradication for vulnerable countries.

     

    Money talks

     

    For now, diplomats at the climate change conference could only sketch a solution to some of the most pressing issues. Money, inevitably, is part of the problem.

    Delegates from Africa, vulnerable small island states, Asia, and other developing regions came to Marrakesh asking rich nations to ramp up their contributions for climate adaptation. People in coastal cities need sea walls to stave off rising tides; farmers in arid regions need to move to find fresh water; and rolling out drought-resistant crops is not free.

     

    The UN Environment Programme estimates that adaptation is going to cost between $280 and $500 billion per year by 2050 in developing countries alone.

     

    This year, rich countries presented a finance roadmap detailing how they will deliver on their $100 billion commitment on overall climate financing by 2020, a politically important promise made in 2009.

     

    Key to hitting that target is private green financing from banks, funds and pensions.

     

    But unlike mitigation technologies such as solar panels or wind farms, adaptation can't offer a compelling business case to private investors. That’s why the vast majority of already scarce climate financing has historically funded mitigation over adaptation.

     

    At Marrakesh, Germany, Italy, Sweden, and Belgium pledged $81 million for adaptation, a drop in the ocean considering that global adaptation needs grow by the billion every year.

     

    “We need more clarity and commitment on releasing financial aid,” said Aliou Dia, regional team leader for climate change at the UN Development Programme. “Adaptation is a big need for Africa… countries are still struggling to access international climate finance.”

     

    The rule book

     

    Making the Paris Agreement work requires a rule book. The first step is to ensure that all countries are able to measure their progress and report back to the UN in a transparent way.

     

    "You can't manage what you can't measure," said Yamide Dagnet, a senior associate at the World Resources Institute. "It's also important to compare efforts. A lot of good things are already being done, but you want to make sure you know what the impacts are, that they are not greenwashing.”

     

    Once the transparency framework is completed, countries will be expected to record their actions and show their progress every two years.

     

    There won't be harsh enforcement measures for those who do not comply, but "we need to make [the process] effective and to give it some teeth," Dagnet said. She explained that experts will facilitate countries lagging behind with recommendations and support.

     

    Time will tell whether this will be enough to compel all nations to go green, even when financial resources are scarce.

     

    Learning by doing

     

    The only way to make the Paris Agreement work is through collaboration, and Marrakesh saw the launch of a number of sharing platforms.

    renewable1.png

    Renewable map
    New frontier - renewable projects in Africa

    One of the most significant is the partnership around Nationally Determined Contributions. It’s a coalition of developing and developed countries and international institutions working together with the aim to share research findings, best practices and direct money where it is most needed to accelerate climate progress.

     

    Members believe that improving technology and infrastructure will in turn attract private investors and help developing countries kickstart their green economies, breaking free from aid ties.

     

    Although adaptation remains a big concern for the developing world, the Africa Renewable Energy Initiative made a splash. It aims to add 10GW of additional generation capacity by 2020 through a mix of solar, hydro, wind, geothermal, and sustainable biomass technologies.

     

    The idea, billed as “by Africa, for Africa”, was good enough to mobilise $10 billion at its inception last year. Marrakesh marked AREI’s roll out.

     

    But, noted one senior humanitarian official, “are we just focusing on the shiny initiative when there is a huge disaster happening elsewhere?”

     

    The Paris Agreement engine has been cranked up, encouraging growth in the renewable sector and providing a boost to clean development worldwide. In two years’ time, the parties will reconvene to sign off on the rule book, and from 2020 countries will have to take responsibility for their own progress.

     

    But will this combined effort deliver on the Paris goals?

     

    It is highly unlikely. Analysis shows that even if the national targets that are a key part of the Paris Agreement are fully implemented, the world will be 2.7 degrees warmer by the end of the century – a temperature rise that would have disastrous consequences.

     

    The Paris Agreement is built in such a way that parties are encouraged to increase their ambitions every five years. Let’s hope they do.

     

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    Climate action gathering shakes off the Trump effect
  • The battle to stop Trump hijacking the climate agenda

    After the shock win in the US presidential election of climate change denialist Donald Trump, what was expected to be an uneventful round of UN talks in Marrakesh has suddenly taken on far greater importance.

     

    Behind closed doors, diplomats are scrambling to anticipate Trump’s next move. What was billed as a technical conference on the procedural issues of implementing the Paris Agreement – which came into force just this month – is now being cast as a desperate attempt to safeguard global action.

     

    During his campaign, Trump, who once tweeted that climate change was a hoax invented by the Chinese to make US manufacturing less competitive, repeatedly pledged that the US would scrap its climate aid budget and “cancel” the Paris Agreement. The landmark deal, setting the legal framework for global carbon emission reduction, has been signed by 195 countries, and is strongly supported by outgoing US President Barack Obama.

    Bypassing Paris

    Early signs aren’t great. Myron Ebell, a “climate contrarian”, is expected to play a leading role in formulating Trump’s policy, as head of the Environmental Protection Agency. And senior members of the president-elect’s transition team are reportedly already exploring how to pull out of the Paris deal as rapidly as possible, bypassing what is otherwise officially a four-year procedure.

     

    But what Trump’s policy positions actually will be once he takes office, as on a whole range of key issues, remains frustratingly unclear.

     

    The mood in Marrakesh is nevertheless grim. Urgent discussions involving senior officials are taking place as the conference enters its second and final week to try to forestall the impact of a US administration potentially prepared to defy the global consensus.

    Speaking under condition of anonymity, a senior negotiator said that one option being mulled is the introduction of trade penalties for countries that aren’t members of the Paris Agreement, which has been ratified by more than 100 nations.

     

    It’s a tactic that has proved successful in the past. Under the Montreal Protocol, launched to control dangerous ozone depleting gases, countries are bound by so-called “non-party trade provisions” that require them to restrict their trade in hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) with non-parties.

     

    “In other words, if the United States does not ratify the amendment, it could be blocked from importing or exporting HFCs, isolating itself from global trade in these substances during the gradual phasedown of their use,” said Avipsa Mahapatra, at the Environmental Investigation Agency, which tackles environmental crimes.

     

    The system has contributed to the high level of compliance under the Montreal Protocol, and according to some, could also be replicated for the Paris Agreement.

     

    But there are concerns that too-strict trade barriers risk being counterproductive. It could encourage some member countries to pull out of the Paris deal for the sake of trading freely with a key partner like the US.

     

    “It’s an unrealistic prospect,” said Kevin Fay, executive director of the Alliance for Responsible Atmospheric Policy, an industry coalition. “Near-term pressure tactics would only backfire. Trump would just respond to fire with fire.”

    Making a deal

    Fay doesn’t believe the Paris agreement will be won or lost in the next two months before Trump enters office. Instead, he pins his hopes on properly laying out the arguments on climate action “because Trump’s understanding of this issue is very shallow”.

     

    Identifying areas where a good deal for the US can be found may also convince Trump and his team to reconsider their stance on climate action, he added.

     

    Although key players in Marrakesh officially argue the Paris deal can survive even if the US pulls out, it is by now clear that a radical shift in international relations is already under way.

     

    Trade agreements and new alliances will shape the future of global climate action, and diplomats at the UN climate talks are thinking ahead.

     

    “The EU, China and other [UN Framework Convention on Climate Change] members have already made clear that they intend to move ahead with their commitments regardless of what president-elect Trump does,” said Alden Meyer, director of strategy and policy at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

     

    “If the US really pulls out of the Paris Agreement, you might start to see partnerships between European and Asian countries that leave out major US players who don’t have any climate regime in place,” he noted.

     

    A decade ago, climate economist Nicholas Stern proposed a carbon tax and trade regulation as an essential foundation for a global climate change policy.

     

    The European Union has a longstanding emission trading scheme, and China is about to launch its own nationwide system, with technical assistance from European experts. States such as California, Ontario and Quebec are actively engaged in carbon markets, so new alliances could take shape on both sides of the Atlantic, bypassing Washington.

    Pressure points

    Officials in Marrakesh are also suggesting that the security and political implications of climate change may have some leverage over Washington. Syria is often cited as an example of a crisis that escalated in part due to climate change-related issues (extreme drought), a case they said that could be made to Trump’s advisers when in place.

     

    “It’s early days, but I am sure there is a lot of behind-the-scenes discussion around the trade implications of the new US climate agenda and the possibility of incentivising the adoption of an aggressive climate regime,” said Meyer.

     

    The weight of public opinion, built up over the past 20 years in support of the green economy, should also not be underestimated. “There is a strong ground-up momentum on climate action in the US and globally, that any country or world leader would be foolish to question,” noted climate investigator Mahapatra.

     

    She added that ​both the Paris Agreement and the Kigali amendment, a recent update to the Montreal Protocol that is believed to be key to staving off nearly 0.5C of global warming, have broad support from the private sector and civil society alike, “and is an absolute no-brainer for the climate and the US economy”.

     

    Trump has already managed to hijack Marrakesh. But what’s all the more galling for world leaders and officials attending this week is that nobody knows what that means for the climate agreement when the former tycoon and TV celebrity is inaugurated in January next year.

    A real-time climate data explorer

    ldb/oa/ag

     

    Will the president-elect tear up the global consensus on climate change?
  • Water crisis in the Gulf needs radical solutions

    Despite their location smack in the middle of the desert, the Gulf countries have water parks, public fountains, and bright green lawns.

    But all that glitters is not gold, and a water crisis is looming for countries such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

    Technology can alleviate its natural scarcity – there will be enough to drink – but the costs and environmental impacts are simply unsustainable in the long run.

    So what’s to be done? Experts argue that radical change is now the only way to avoid disaster, but policymakers are reacting far too slowly.

    The problem

    Desalination, a technique that removes the salt from saltwater to make it drinkable, produces around 90 percent of the water in the Arabian Peninsula, a region that is naturally arid but consumes 816 cubic metres of water annually per person, well above the global average of 500.

    The most popular technique for removing salt from water is thermal distillation – water is evaporated, the vapours collected, and the salt separated out.

    This requires a fair bit of energy, which is usually obtained by burning fossil fuels – increasing carbon emissions that some have argued, if left unchecked, could push heat in the already steamy region to an unliveable level.

    The process also leaves behind a highly saline solution that ends up in the sea: Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE all have desalination facilities on the shores of the Gulf, sending brine discharges into its shallow waters.

    Columbia University anthropologist Gokce Gunel is concerned about “peak salt”, the possibility that the Gulf will become so salty that desalinating its waters will become unaffordable.

    The peak salt concept has been on the radar for years now, but only recently have scientists and policymakers begun to take it seriously.

    High salinity not only ups the price of creating drinking water, it also alters the chemistry of the marine ecosystem, threatening coral reefs and other creatures.

    Sea pollution also causes algal blooming, known in common parlance as “red tide” for the dramatic appearance it takes on – when algae spreads out of control, increases toxicity levels, absorbing the ocean’s oxygen and suffocating fish.

    The technical option

    Farid Benyahia, a professor of chemical engineering at Qatar University, is concerned that “there are big environmental issues associated with desalination on a massive scale”.

    So he’s on the hunt for a viable alternative to traditional methods, and told IRIN by email that he’s hit on an invention that aims to solve both the problems of carbon emissions and excess brine in one.

    Through a cycle of chemical reactions, Benyahia's method turns CO2 and saline solution into solid substances that can be disposed of in a more controlled manner (read: not back into the water).

    Though still at an early stage and not entirely impact-free, this new method could massively reduce the side-effects of traditional desalination.

    Other radical solutions are being explored.

    The UAE, where it rains on average only three days a year, is even reportedly looking into ways to make it rain artificially.

    The people problem

    Whichever way you look at it, Benyahia believes that over-consumption is a major piece of the puzzle.

    "Water has been historically heavily subsidised by Arabian states and in some countries… it is free,” he said. “This is set to change soon, and it has already started being more expensive in some Gulf states."

    Gunel said that because humans can produce fresh water artificially, we have come to see it as an inexhaustible resource.

    “There is not enough attention towards the social relations that created climate change in the first place,” Gunel told IRIN. “[This] perpetuates the environmental conditions in which we find ourselves.”

    So locals water luxurious gardens, keep their lawns in tip-top shape, and wash cars with abandon, lulled into a false sense of security.

    After years of attempting to encourage residents to decrease their water usage with limited success, countries like Qatar are now enforcing penalties against wastage – first time violators who use drinking water to wash cars or clean courtyards can incur a fine of up to QR 20,000 ($5,500).

    And in Saudi Arabia, new policies that reduce or remove water subsidies have led to a public outcry. Authorities have also attempted to lower water use, handing out showerheads that are more efficient.

    At the end of the day, if a crisis is to be averted Gunel says Gulf countries must do more than artificially boost the availability of fresh water – they need to change the public perception of water from a free, endless resource to a man-made commodity that is expensive, finite, and has to be managed.

    That’s a tough ask in countries where gated communities sport pools and golf courses, and Gunel believes that for the most part, politicians are still not really challenging the status quo.

    “You can't ask people to change their lifestyle radically, it's not an idea that will ever become popular.”

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    (TOP PHOTO: The Dubai Mall sits on an artificial lake. Guilhem Vellut/Flickr)

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Water crisis in the Gulf needs radical solutions
  • Green Climate Fund feels the heat

    It’s just three months since world leaders reached an agreement in Paris to commit billions of dollars towards curbing and adapting to climate change. But the UN body responsible for ensuring the money is spent effectively is facing some critical questions.

    The Green Climate Fund (GCF) has so far focused on building a framework to approve its first batch of projects. The fund set itself the tough goal of distributing $2.5 billion by the end of 2016, a quarter of the $10 billion currently pledged by countries in support of the climate cause.

    See: The good, the bad… and the OK

    But with December’s summit over and with a pipeline of only eight investments totalling $168 million, the GCF also finds itself without a clear vision or long-term strategy – and faces criticism from partners as well as developing countries struggling with its red tape.

    At the beginning of February, a meeting was held in Cape Town, South Africa, to address some of the most pressing issues. Labelled by some as a “crisis” gathering, the event was only open to board members and four external observers.

    Liane Schalatek, an international trade expert with the Heinrich Böll Foundation North America, who attended as a civil society observer, believes the crisis label was a “misrepresentation”. But, “there are certainly a number of essential strategic policies that have been overlooked in the run-up to Paris and now have to be discussed.”

    See: Briefing on climate financing

    The GCF vowed to have a transformative impact, enabling a “paradigm shift” in the way global climate finance is organised, but has yet to clarify what “transformation” means in practice.

    This is particularly important because it will determine the way in which funds are managed, how potential partners are approached, and the GCF’s risk appetite – namely, to what extent donors and project implementers are willing to absorb the risk of investment failure.

    One major challenge the GCF faces is a perceived north-south divide.

    The projects currently in the pipeline range from resilience-building in Peru’s wetlands to a new energy efficiency green bond in Latin America and the Caribbean. But the list is short of the locally driven, small-scale initiatives that are key to building grassroots resilience.

    Although the majority of projects are located within least developed countries or small island states, programme selection still suggests a top-down approach to climate financing.

    “Large scale projects are obviously important, but there is a need for more national and subnational based initiatives,” said Neha Rai, a climate change researcher with the International Institute for Environment and Development.

    “Ultimately, local people know better what works and what doesn’t in a given community, and their involvement is important to design successful interventions.”

    One reason why no small-scale, subnational-led projects appear in the list so far – and this may not change in the immediate future – lies in the structure and accreditation process of the GCF.

    “Getting accredited to the Green Climate Fund is a tough challenge,” said Nira Amerasinghe, climate finance expert at the World Resources Institute. “You have to demonstrate that you have the right policies and the commitment to manage money in an effective and socially appropriate way. And that’s a tall order.”

    The GCF channels money only to accredited “partners” who are invited to pitch projects on behalf of developing countries. The partners are typically established international, regional and national institutions such as development banks or NGOs. They are evaluated in terms of their track record on project management and financial stability. They are also expected to have some core funding of their own to enable a quick project start up.

    Some of the most vulnerable countries, such as Kiribati and other small islands, struggle with the complex bureaucracy that comes with a project pitch.

    “There remains the challenge of accessibility and the translation of these pledges into what and to where it matters the most,” Makurita Baaro, Kiribati’s UN permanent representative, said ahead of the Paris summit.

    See: Think big to save small islands

    The UN Environment Programme, the UN Development Programme and the World Resources Institute have started a “readiness programme” to help countries access funding and transition to a new climate economy.

    “Readiness encompasses three main phases,” said Amerasinghe. “First, the planning stage, then the accreditation, and finally the project design and implementation.” This should help countries develop their own local initiatives in accordance with international standards and their own internal needs.

    But Schalatek of the Heinrich Böll Foundation believes that the readiness programme is far from up to speed. “There has been a lot of project development on readiness, but the disbursement of finance and implementation has been really slow,” she noted.

    Civil society organisations complain about a lack of transparency and engagement with local activists at the national level, which they believe hinders the programme.

    See: Counting the money

    The GCF is overseen by a board made up of representatives from developed and developing countries, and operates independently from the UN. It receives the bulk of its donations from developed countries, but also involves the private sector in supporting and scaling up the investments it helps roll out.

    Its objective is to transform the way countries and investors engage in the climate economy – providing support for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and adaptation to the impacts of climate change. The current agreed overall financing target is $100 billion a year from public and private sources by 2020.

    Climate action is related to each country’s broader development goals, like poverty alleviation and economic growth. But Audrey Rojkoff, GCF coordinator at the African Development Bank, believes an “important point to clarify is the difference between adaptation measures and the fight against poverty”.

    Clear definitions and priorities are needed for both objectives, as muddling the two makes it harder to design effective programming.

    “If you want to meet the temperature goals [approved in Paris] you will need a real change in how you look at sustainable development and how economies are run,” said Amerasinghe. “And that’s going to require thinking outside the box.”

    See: IRIN’s full COP21 coverage

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    Green Climate Fund feels the heat

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