Beyond Cancun: civil society and climate change finance

On 9 December, International Anti-corruption Day, Transparency International hosted an event at the COP 16 Climate Change conference in Cancun to discuss the role of civil society in the climate debate.

Lisa Elges, TI’s climate governance programme organiser, reports on what was said and why it is important

Last week’s UN Climate Change Conference in Cancún (COP 16) has been lauded for its inclusive and transparent negotiations. But the many rules and definitions supporting climate governance remain unclear.

We all know that climate change is a problem. However, when it comes to combating it, many of options on the table are very complex. We need clear rules and criteria that give everyone a common understanding of what it means to achieve both effective climate finance and emissions reductions. As climate governance develops, ensuring at minimum that decision-makers are guided by integrity is crucial.

Who defines the recipients of adaptation funding? That depends on the definition of “vulnerability” to climate change, something which delegates have not agreed.

How will “new and additional” funding be sourced now and in the long term? Who will make sure that funds are spent wisely?

To complicate matters, talking about corruption in this setting requires sensitivity to a delicate negotiation where belief in the world’s ability to bring about change is crucial: for one thing, we are not a voice against contributing nations who provide the needed financial support for meeting agreed commitments.

TI defines corruption as the “abuse of entrusted power for private gain.” It is a reality that challenges all countries in different ways. Talking about it should not deter climate finance, but be a vehicle to ensure effective delivery and spending of public money.

Everyone is going to have to play their part, so we have to build trust across countries and across sectors, and for that we need good climate governance.

This is where civil society can play a crucial role.

Transparency International invited civil society experts to discuss the governance challenges in financing, adapting and mitigating climate change and what actions civil society can and should do to enable better effectiveness and above all integrity. In governance terms, integrity refers to safeguarding against corruption.

Our discussions focussed on the definition of functional governance systems that enable transparency, accountability and integrity.

How? It was clear from our debate that civil society is fragmented in its approach to combating governance risks because it views the issues sector by sector. In addition, there are different civil society groups working on improving governance in development aid, climate finance and the green economy. Each one has its own unique vocabulary (I say sustainable development, you say human rights), its own specialist expertise.

Will this fragmentation harm civil society’s chances of playing an oversight role?

Here is a good example: Joseph Powell, a blogger for the One campaign asked why the Paris Principles on aid effectiveness were never adopted in the climate negotiations.

Richard Klein, panellist, and Theme Leader on Reducing Climate Risk at the Stockholm Environmental Institute, answered that though the substance of the principles is applicable to climate finance, many countries object to their use as the debate is on climate change rather than aid

Bert Metz, panellist and Senior Fellow at European Climate Foundation agreed. He noted that the cross-fertilisation of ideas and lessons learned among civil society is limited by the artificial separation created within the development debate.

Jennifer Havercamp, from Environmental Defense Fund, who chaired the panel also emphasized the need to ensure integrity in carbon markets – as a potential, very significant source of “new and additional” climate finance.

The Rio 2012 Earth Summit will be an opportunity to build the trust and bridges needed to combat corruption. Rio 2012 aims to come up with a green economy through an institutional framework on sustainable development. According to Caio Magri, director of public policy at the Instituto Ethos (Brazil), the synergies with the climate change negotiations are many but arguably, Rio 2012’s goal is more ambitious and its outcome, if successful, will heavily influence the climate debate. Our meeting agreed that civil society cannot afford to wait for Rio 2012 and in any case, Rio 2012 would not be a silver bullet.

Building civil society capacities to engage in climate and green economy policy development and implementation, and to build bridges between civil society and governance bodies work cross-sectorally is important.

But what can civil society do to ensure integrity:

From 17 years of fighting corruption, Transparency International has seen many tools and approaches that meet different circumstances: surveys and indexes that identify sources of the problem, codes of conduct, integrity pacts, legal advice centres, putting in place international conventions (like UNCAC) – and enforcing them.

The governance/anti-corruption community may be unfamiliar with the climate change discourse, but it has much to offer: keeping corruption at bay, increasing public participation and oversight.

Step one is identifying where improved integrity standards can better enable climate change efforts.

For instance, TI’s Bribe Payers Index highlights corruption by sector. In 2008, it showed that the construction and property development sectors, pretty crucial in terms of adopting more sustainable development, were found by business leaders to be the most corrupt and vulnerable to state capture. The energy sector was not as bad and ranked in the middle.

In becoming more aware of needs and risks, we have taken a first step towards keeping climate change finance clean.

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