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Climate Funds’ Funny Business

In "This Week in Climate", we look at arising challenges in financing the just transition.
Julian Moore
Jun 9, 2023 10 min read
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Just Transition Funds Go Awry

A wide-ranging report from Reuters this week found that four countries, Italy, the United States, Belgium, and Japan, have counted unrelated projects as "climate finance" to meet their funding goals for developing nations to reduce emissions and adapt to climate change.

The projects include the opening of chocolate and gelato stores in Asia, a hotel expansion in Haiti, backing a film set in the Argentine rainforest, and financing a new coal plant in Bangladesh and an airport expansion in Egypt. These projects, totaling $2.6 billion, were reported as climate finance, despite their limited connection to projects that would reduce emissions, nevermind those that will emit tons more.

The lack of clear guidelines and accountability for climate finance has allowed countries to define their own activities as climate-related. Wealthy funder nations, which have pledged to contribute $100 billion annually for climate finance, have resisted imposing uniform standards.

Each has defended some of its more dubious projects. A U.S. official stated that the hotel project was included because it incorporated measures for controlling stormwater and protecting against hurricanes. A spokesperson from the Belgian government defended the inclusion of a grant for a rain-forest movie as climate finance, citing its focus on deforestation as a significant contributor to climate change.

Reports show that billions of dollars in climate finance remain undocumented or have been allocated to projects unrelated to emissions reduction or climate resilience. The failure to meet the $100 billion goal has led to discussions about establishing a new fund to cover the costs of climate change damage, which could require trillions of dollars in funding.

Just Transition Bill for United States

Exactly how many trillions is still an open question, but a study this week puts the number at $170 trillion for Global North countries.

Wealthier nations like the U.S., United Kingdom, and Germany not only bear the greatest responsibility for current and historical emissions but are also on track to exceed their allocated carbon budgets.

The researchers utilized estimates from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to calculate the global carbon budget and individual country budgets while considering the significant emission reductions that countries in the Global South will need to make in order to compensate for the overuse of carbon by countries that exceed their fair share.

Andrew Fanning, the lead author of the study and a visiting research fellow at the University of Leeds, emphasized that the Global North would exceed its fair share of the 1.5-degree carbon budget by nearly three times. Consequently, countries that have exceeded their budgets must be balanced by other countries.

Fanning stated that the U.S. would be accountable for the largest portion, $80 trillion, as compensation for its excessive emissions. These funds would be distributed to historically low emitters such as India, China, and regions like sub-Saharan Africa.

The study builds on the idea of "loss and damage" that has become a focus of COP negotiations in recent years. Since countries emitting less carbon will suffer greater consequences, wealthy nations that have benefitted from carbon emissions will fund their transition.

One of the few tangible outcomes from COP26 in Glasgow was the establishment of Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero (GFANZ) to administer these funds. But so far it's been rough going, as last week another German bank pulled out of the fund for what it said were a lack of solid climate credentials in portfolio projects.

South Africa

Then there is the case of South Africa, which has collected just transition funds from rich countries, but is nonetheless planning to extend the life of their most polluting sources of energy due to a persistent energy crisis. Germany officials have reportedly been “understanding” of South Africa’s difficulties and are keeping the funds flowing despite continued coal burning.

The Just Energy Transition Partnership (JetP), backed by the US, UK, EU, Germany, and France, supports South Africa's transition to renewables with $8.5 billion to replace coal plants with solar and wind power.

But ongoing power cuts in South Africa have led to discussions about delaying the closure of additional coal plants. President Cyril Ramaphosa acknowledges the need to transition to cleaner energy but wants to consider the country's energy security and the well-being of its people.

Part of Germany’s magnanimity toward South Africa is that it has faced a similar situation, temporarily extending the operation of coal plants to ensure electricity supply during a crisis.

Emissions targets aside, The JetP fund has generated controversy around other issues in South Africa. The funds include plans for social protection and retraining of workers affected by the shift away from coal, although details remain elusive and there are concerns about reskilling in coal-dependent communities.

The financing arrangement has also been a point of contention, as most of the funds provided are in the form of loans, raising worries about South Africa's increasing debt burden.

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The Author

Julian Moore