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COP19: Poor countries in the dark on climate finance

Oliver Tickell

14th November 2013

Poor countries are being left with little idea about what money is available to help them cope with climate change because of murky accounting and a lack of transparency by rich countries, according to an Oxfam study.

Greater transparency, accountability and a plan that sets out how countries will increase funding is essential.

At the 2009 climate change conference in Copenhagen, key promises by developed countries to provide hundreds of billions of dollars in climate finance saved the event from total disaster.

The specific commitments were: developed countries would provide 30 billion USD over the course of 2010-2012 as 'fast start' finance to help developing countries in the fight against climate change; and they would mobilise an additional $100 billion a year by 2020.

But as the current COP19 climate change talks (COP19) get under way in Warsaw, Poland, it now appears that the developing countries were sold a pup four years ago. 

An analysis by development charity Oxfam shows that "most developed countries are now failing to demonstrate promised increases. Based on confirmed figures, there is no confidence that climate finance is on an increasing trend towards the 2020 promise."

Key findings Oxfam's report, After the Fast Start: Climate finance in 2013 and beyond, include:

  • 24 developed countries have still not confirmed their climate finance for 2013. For 2014 the situation is even worse as countries which together provided 81% of Fast Start Finance, have still not announced any figures. Just one country, the UK, has announced its plans for climate finance in 2015.
  • developed countries are claiming to have provided $16.3bn in 2013 - but the actual budget allocations may be closer to $7.6bn as some countries have included loans in their figures - which will have to be repaid. Only $8.3bn has been formally announced at the UN climate change negotiations. Many questions marks over the figures remain as some countries are including contributions that weren't counted during the Fast Start period.
  • The current best estimate of finance - in the range $7.6bn - $16.3bn - is well below even the lowest estimate of what it is going to cost developing countries to adapt to climate change, which ranges from $27 billion to well over $100 billion. By comparison, developed countries spent $55-90 billion a year during 2005 -2011 on fossil fuel subsidies; the Netherlands is spending €1 billion to protect its low-lands from flooding; and Australia will spend $12 billion till 2018 on adapting to domestic water stress.
  • It is impossible to say how this year's commitments compare to previous years because the accounting methods involved are so complex and opaque - however for most countries finance levels appear to have either flat-lined (e.g. the Netherlands) or decreased (e.g. Sweden).
  • Rather than being genuinely new and additional money for climate action, much of what developed countries are counted towards their claimed climate contribution has been redirected from existing overseas aid budgets, or climate-related development aid which is not principally focused on climate action.


"Rich countries must make it clear to poor countries what money is available now and in the coming years to help them adapt to climate change and reduce their emissions", said Oxfam's Climate spokesperson, Kelly Dent.

"Uncertainty from one year to the next makes it impossible for vulnerable countries to take the action they need to protect their citizens. This murkiness will only heighten distrust around the negotiating table."

Only the US, European Union, Japan and New Zealand held to last year's agreement to say how they will increase funding to reach their share of the $100 billion a year. But their submissions raise "more questions than they answer" and fail to provide reassurance that the $100bn will ever materialize.

Dent said; "The rich are protecting their own back-yards while continuing to invest heavily in polluting energies which is fuelling climate change. Greater transparency, accountability and a plan that sets out how countries will increase funding is essential."

"Rich countries cannot be allowed to kick this vital issue down the road again. If they do, it will mean more hungry people, more damaging climate change emissions, and a further breakdown in trust that could bury hopes for a global climate deal in 2015."

Now at COP19 - and with the 2020 deadline for developed countries to raise $100 billion per year fast approaching - discussions are focused on mobilising private finance such as loans and equity investments.

However private finance is only available where there are profits to be made, or at least a demonstrable ability to service interest and capital payments on loans. Most of the investments developing countries need to make are inherently unprofitable. And the poorest countries at risk of the worst climate change impacts will struggle to repay any loans.

"This focus on private investment overlooks the critical role of public finance - both in supporting the adaptation needs of the world’s most vulnerable communities, as well as in shifting private sector investment towards lowcarbon and climate-resilient development", states the report.

"At stake are the lives and livelihoods of poor and vulnerable communities on the front lines of the climate crisis, already grappling with the impacts of global warming around the world. They urgently need promised assistance to adapt essential livelihoods systems to a changing climate, especially food production."

"Developing countries also need promised support to put their economies on emissions pathways that allow the world to avoid warming of more than the 2ºC limit set in Copenhagen, let alone the 1.5ºC that is seen as the maximum warming acceptable to the most vulnerable populations and for small and low-lying island nations."

"Greater transparency, accountability and a plan that sets out how countries will increase funding is essential."

The information provided in Oxfam's briefing 'After the Fast Start: Climate finance in 2013 and beyond' looks at developed countries that made announcements in Doha or have been key providers of fast start finance between 2010-2012.

Follow Oxfam at the climate talks at @oxfamatcop and @Oxfam

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