No money, mo’ problems

by Bogdan Zymka

The clock is winding down in Doha and as the negotiations press on, the blank ivory pages under finance in the LCA have burned into our pupils like the setting Doha sun. So far, the only financial support that has been pushed through the text is more market mechanisms, despite major opposition from the developing world. Markets run on a profit motive, not a climate motive, when you put money as the primary target, ambition falls to the wayside.

Developed parties have constantly re-iterated their previous commitments of 100bn by 2020 and their massive successes with the Fast-Start Finance (FSF), a target of 30bn in climate finance from 2010 to 2012. 30bn in two years seems like a feat, and if it were any good, a great model for the future of climate finance. The problems come to light with a closer examination of the FSF period and whether it follows the mandates for climate finance.

As I’ve said before, the UNFCCC mandates that climate finance for mitigation and adaptation must be new and additional, as in, not already committed and redirected or relabeled Official Development Assistance (ODA). The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) provides publishes the statistics of ODA every year, and since the focus on FSF has published a ‘comprehensive’ report on climate finance, providing data for ODA flows labeled as mitigation and adaptation climate finance to developing countries.

Climate finance isn’t charity, it’s debt owed by the developed world. Developed countries are historically the biggest emitters and are most responsible for the damage done by climate change. They’ve amassed a climate debt that is owed to the developing world.

The OECD established ‘Rio markers’ for donor countries to classify their contributions as climate finance if they meet certain criteria. As defined by the OECD, mitigation aid “contributes to the objective of stabilization of greenhouse gas (GHG) concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system by promoting efforts to reduce or limit GHG emissions or to enhance GHG sequestration.” Adaptation aid “intends to reduce the vulnerability of human or natural systems to the impacts of climate change and climate-related risks, by maintaining or increasing adaptive capacity and resilience.” While these markers further falsely legitimize the use of ODA as climate finance, they make data easier for climate finance analysis. The OECD did not previously have markers for climate finance, only markers the destination sectors of aid.

The data is public and has since been poured over by a number of organizations. The Center for Comparative and International Studies (CIS) released a report entitled “Coding Error or Statistical Embellishment? The Political Economy of Reporting Climate Aid” The report outlines some starting factoids. Upon initial review, the CIS found funds classified as climate ODA from Belgium going to a ‘Love movie festival’, or ODA coming from Greece going to a “Green Parliament contribution to UNICEF telemarathon”, or Switzerland allocating funds for “Earthquake safety”, none of which seem  to have anything to do with mitigation or adaptation, unless the ‘love movie festival’ reduced the vulnerability of a country to the impacts of climate change by further expanding their emotional depth.

The report continues, adding that from a “random sample of 115,000 aid projects, only 25% had climate related content.” Take a moment to do the hypothetical math here. If approximately 30bn was allocated to climate finance and 90%, 27bn, was ODA, only 7.5bn dollars of said supposed climate finance would have had anything to do with climate change.

A compounding issue of ODA as climate finance is the fact that most ODA is in the form of loans, as the OECD only mandates that 25% of ODA contain a grant element. So while the developed world brags about to provide financing for the world’s poor during an imminent climate crisis they line their pockets with the returns on their “investment” as the developing world continues to buckle under the weight of false charity from the developed world. What would happen if you tried to pay back your bank loans with 90% monopoly money and 75% money you demanded back, with interest? They would throw you out and take your house. Maybe that’s what we should do, metaphorically take away the houses of all those that refuse to fund the cleanup of their own mess.

OECD countries have effectively found a way to lie through their teeth about climate finance, fulfill commitments they set themselves, continue to exploit the poor, and maintain the gall to dangle their achievements above the developing world’s heads.

There have been a number of problems with climate finance during these talks, all of which are overshadowed by the fact that it doesn’t even exist yet. The US and EU have refused to even talk about finance, citing the financial crisis on the home front. Even if we do get some sort of moot text out of Doha, we will still have to deal with its inadequacy, lack of additionality, and disproportional split between mitigation and adaptation.

Given the history of climate finance thus far and the injustice dished out to the developing world It’s not surprising that developing countries are taking a hard stance on their red lines. This is a debt that needs to be paid now more than ever. 

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