Adapting to climate change in Africa will hinge on improved transparency

Sunset at the historic Menara garden in Marrakech, Morocco,
Sunset at the historic Menara garden in Marrakech, Morocco,
Image: AP Photo/Mosa'ab Elshamy
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Marrakech, Morocco

After last year’s adoption of the Paris Agreement, the Marrakech climate summit – which closed last week and was billed Africa’s COP – focused on issues for its implementation, including finance. Transparency was central to that discussion.

But while the so-called Paris rulebook has until 2018 to be defined, time is running out for many of the continent’s countries on the frontline of climate change facing prolonged droughts, flooding and extreme temperatures. Finding funding to help deal with such effects, let alone reduce emissions, is key.

African states, together with other likeminded countries, have long pressured developed countries to boost financial support. Those controlling the purse strings however have been reluctant, saying greater transparency was needed to assure that money was going to where it is needed.

A report earlier this year by Transparency International pointed to the high risk of corruption in several African countries reliant on climate funds. It claimed Cameroon, Ghana, Zambia and Zimbabwe were particularly at risk of misusing international funds intended for their REDD+ initiative , a forest preservation program under the United Nations climate change unit, the UNFCCC.

Also, the corruption watchdog’s latest Corruption Perception Index showed that some of the world’s most climate change vulnerable countries were amongst the least transparent countries globally.

Eritrea, Chad, Central African Republic, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo, which Notre Dame University’s Global Adaptation Index listed as the worst off countries worldwide in terms of climate adaptation readiness also figured amongst the last 27 of the 167 countries on Transparency International’s list.

“The problem of transparency is on the rise. If we let governments do things in their own way, the corruption will be there,” said Benson Kibiti from Caritas Kenya told Quartz at the Marrakech summit. “That’s the biggest challenge in Africa.”

He was there advocating against plans to build a coal-fired energy plant on the island of Lamu – part of a Kenyan-Chinese partnership – that would involve importing the combustible from other countries.

There, as elsewhere on the continent, powerful lobbies supporting the fossil fuel industry were allowing such projects to prevail, and ran against global emissions-cutting drives proclaimed in the Paris Agreement.

“Undue influence by fossil fuel lobbies is a problem in Africa, as it is in the US and Europe,” Lutz Weischer of Germanwatch, a non-profit group, said.

Transparency at a price

But assuring the proper use of international funds for climate programs already often involves demanding rules that often differ according to donor source, which may be a regional bank, a UN agency, the World Bank or a country donor.

Marilene Diara, an official with Senegal’s environment ministry explained that procedures she encountered for applying to funds were complex, with requirements varying and often facing regular alterations at donor institutions.

Given the multiplicity of finance sources, the creation of the Green Climate Fund, intended to raise $100 billion, was to centralize support to developing countries in their efforts to build clean energy and climate-resistant economies. Pledges to date have fallen short of the target.

But while the Paris treaty did not determine how money from the fund would be administered, negotiators in Marrakech nonetheless agreed that governments would have to submit extensive details on adaptation programmes when applying for funds.

Isaiah Kipyegon Torotich of Act Alliance, an international association of NGOs, worried that implementing such rules could be difficult where technical expertise was lacking, meaning that those most in need may be left out.

“(Assuring) transparency is a capacity issue. The requirement is burdensome, necessitating scientific and empirical investigation, that some governments cannot provide.”

In other words, even with the best intentions, being transparent can be difficult.

Amongst the donor countries, Switzerland has been an active negotiator on the transparency.

“The challenge is to find a right balance between being precise enough without being burdensome,” Franz Perrez, the country’s climate negotiator told Quartz.