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Supporting Africa through climate change

By Maria Ballesteros - posted Wednesday, 11 November 2009

In an unexpected show of unity, negotiators from 50 African countries walked out of a key climate change negotiating session last week in Barcelona. Their protest was over the failure of industrialised countries being able to commit to deep emission reduction targets and unwillingness to say how much financial support they could provide for Africa to become better prepared for climate change.

Bruno Sekoli, the head of Lesotho’s national climate office and chair of the Least Developed Countries negotiating team, said dramatic action was spurred by slow progress.

The United Nations Group of 77 and China swiftly issued a statement in support of Africa, reiterating their disappointment in countries backsliding from Kyoto targets and the lack of rich-country commitments on climate funding.


Whether it is the World Bank, the Global Environment Facility, the Adaptation Fund Board or new institutions that will be tasked with managing these new flows of climate finance, they will only be successful if both donor and recipient countries see them as legitimate.

In a report I just co-authored for the World Resources Institute, we conclude that relying on existing institutions could work if significant reforms are put in place. For example, the World Bank will need to embrace fundamental changes in its governance structures and operational procedures in order to give greater voice to developing countries. This would include taking advice from civil society, technical experts, and the private sector.

To be viewed as legitimate, the Bank’s “business as usual” practices - its support for fossil fuel projects in developing countries, and its minimal attention to climate change and low-carbon development strategies - will need to change.

So far, developing countries have indicated their readiness to act, alongside the industrialised nations. But to do so, they will need a demonstration of good faith that those historically responsible for the problem will take swift and meaningful action and commit to significant financial support.

Current estimates by the UNFCCC indicate that approximately US$200 billion is required to help meet the costs of adaptation and mitigation in developing countries. Such assistance would go towards adapting to changing climatic conditions such as stronger storms, droughts, and sea level rises; reducing greenhouse gases by switching to cleaner fuels and energy sources; and building capacity so that they have the expertise and institutions to make the necessary transition to a low-carbon economy.

Though there is increasing agreement among all countries about the amount of finance required to satisfactorily tackle climate change, there is still no consensus on how this money will actually be delivered.


This is why finance is one of the most contentious issues in the ongoing climate negotiations. Whichever finance mechanism the negotiators settle upon will mobilise and then allocate funds, prepare and approve projects, provide technical advice, set standards for performance, and then monitor projects to ensure that they are held accountable.

It is a huge task. A new global deal on climate finance, hopefully to be agreed upon next month in Copenhagen, is likely to significantly redistribute power, responsibility and accountability between traditional contributor and recipient countries. In light of the dramatic changes in global politics and the global economy in the past decades, this redistribution seems both long overdue and necessary to provide the basis for a successful global partnership on climate finance.

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About the Author

Maria Athena Ballesteros is Senior Associate at WRI and Technical Advisor to the Philippine delegation at the UN climate talks.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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