Climate Finance

Wednesday, November 30

What is Climate Finance?  The idea behind this is that the wealthy,
polluting nations of the world need to pay poorer, less polluting
countries – which also happen to be the ones getting it in the neck
because of climate change – so that the latter can adapt to the impact
of climate change. Not so surprisingly, climate financing doesn’t
exactly live up to what it’s billed to do.

This panel picked up on a discussion begun in the morning, but
focused on climate finance in Africa more specifically. The panel began
with a rousing choral anthem, in which members of COSATU (the South
African Conference of Trade Unions) sang in stirring counterpoint with
one another, ending with a powerful cry of “Amandhla – Mowetu!). After
this powerful anthem, one of the singers explained that the words spoke
of how we don’t like what global capitalism wants of us.

The first presenter was Liane Schalatek of the Heinrich Boll Foundation North America.
Schalatek showed slides whose flow chart-like complexity illustrated
the chaos of climate financing.  What’s happening is a shift from the
UNFCCC, the UN system that was largely responsible for climate finance,
to multilateral development banks like the World Bank and the African
Development Bank.  They have set up a number of specified funds, but
cause climate change through their development programs, and then also
try to offset that impact through climate finance funds.

Africa as a continent is benefiting little from climate financing in
general, and adaptation is not getting much support, Schalatek argued.

She also underlined that climate financing should be based on grants
rather than loans, and should be seen as mandatory and compensatory
transfer payments from North to South. But at the moment the system is
based on voluntary payments that countries often do not come through on.

The amounts we’re talking about are approx $67 billion per year for
adaption and $200 billion for mitigation. These are large sums, but are
really peanuts in comparison with current EU bail-out fund. Schalatek
explained that little of the money actually pledged has actually reached
African countries. In addition, more is spent on mitigation than
adaptation. The most money spent has been by the Least Developed Country
Fund, although this spending ($60 million) has been slight. A new
program run by the World Bank, the Pilot Program of Climate Resilience
(PPCR), supports only a few countries, but with lots of money.  But the
PPCR does not just give grants but also loans, which of course hooks
countries into debt. This is unacceptable under establish notions of
climate debt, and also obscenely forces people to pay for impact on
their lives wrought by others.

South Africa, as a country, has profited most from Clean Development
Fund. It’s getting $350 million for Eskom Clean Development Fund, which
is greenwashing project to make up for and cover up the Eskom Madupi
Coal-Fired Power Plant. The African Development Bank loaned Eskom $2.5
billion for this plant, a figure consistent with the fact that 84% of
lending by the ADB has supported conventional fossil fuel projects.

Next up, Tricia of the Institute of Security Studies in Cape Town
talked about the proposed Africa Green Fund.  This is a proposal made
by the ADB to establish a fund that is exclusively meant for Africa, to
manage and deliver the continent’s share of finance.  The stated goal is
to support development in Africa.  Relatively little money goes at
present to adaptation, although African countries have stated that this
is their primary need.

The main question she posed was whether another climate fund is
really necessary when there are so many already existing, most of which
are highly ineffectual.  Shouldn’t we try to improve the working of
existing funds like the Adaptation Fund, which is relatively democratic
in terms of governance, rather than attempting to start a new one.

Oscar Reyes of Carbon Trade Watch
spoke next about carbon offsetting schemes. His verdict was damning.
The effort right now, he argued, is to get rid of the targets of the
Kyoto Protocol, and keep the market elements. Carbon offsets are not
reductions – they actually just move carbon around, according to Reyes.
It usually involves large industries moving their pollution to poor

Geographical concentration of where these projects happen is very
uneven. Only about 2% of the projects are sited in Africa, and most of
these projects are in Egypt and South Africa. Example of large factory
in Egypt that is “clean,” thereby allowing large dirty energy projects
in Europe to continue. A future main area of offsetting is gas-flaring
reduction projects in Niger Delta. These are not projects for reducing
flaring (which is already illegal), but actually these credits go to
encourage expansion of the gas industry.

On the table at Durban are proposals for expansion of carbon markets
into agriculture. Originally in the Kyoto Protocol, agriculture wasn’t
included because no one knew how to measure carbon from agriculture
accurately. Attempt here at COP17 is to put “soil” carbon trading
program into place. Once more organic matter is in the soil (a good
thing in itself), it just legitimates continuing pollution in North. A
project in Kenya demonstrates the dangers of these programs. Half of
funds go to middle men (carbon accountants and consultants); less than
$1/year goes to each farmer.

One of the other factors at play at the moment is the collapse of the price of carbon. So money isn’t going to materialize.

Major battles, moving forward: it’s essential that carbon markets be
kept out of climate finance, because they can often lead to collapse of

In answer to a question about carbon taxes, Oscar argued that such
taxes tend to be set too low to have much effect, and that, as such
taxes are implemented, we need to watch carefully to make sure that they
are not regressive and do not reduce people’s access to energy.

Janet Redman of the Institute for Policy Studies’ Sustainable Energy and Economy Network
offered a whole series of proposals to fund climate financing: a
“Tobin-tax” on financial transactions, a redirection of fossil fuel
subsidies given to companies in the global North, an end to wasteful
military budgets, and closure of tax loopholes. These funds could be
directed towards a green carbon fund.

Redman also talked about so-called bunkers: taxes on aviation and
ship fuel.  This, she argued, could be good if instituted in a
progressive manner, but there’s a danger that it’ll be linked into
European carbon trading network.

The forum for discussion of these proposals is Eurozone financial
transactions tax, currently being discussed at G20. South Africa,
Argentina, Brazil, Ethiopia, Germany, France and Spain are a “coalition
of the willing” who are being asked to step up.

Ashley Dawson

Ashley Dawson is professor of postcolonial studies in the English department at the Graduate Center, City University of New York and the College of Staten Island. His latest books include People’s Power: Reclaiming the Energy Commons (O/R, 2020), Extreme Cities: The Peril and Promise of Urban Life in the Age of Climate Change (Verso, 2017), and Extinction: A Radical History (O/R, 2016). A member of the Social Text Collective and the founder of the CUNY Climate Action Lab, he is a long-time climate justice activist.