Will President Zuma raise climate finance at the G20 summit?

G20: Leading on anti-corruption? The view from civil society

Alice Harrison, Communications and Advocacy Coordinator for Transparency International’s Climate GovernanceIntegrity Programme, highlights the need to consider the dangers of corruption in climate finance at the upcoming G20 summit and COP17 meeting.

Economic growth and environmental conservation tend to be presented in terms of either/or. In the industrialised world the environment has figured as a resource, with economic success based largely upon how much a country can extract from it. But now an interesting shift is taking place. The preservation of our planet has been given a price tag. And it’s a big one. Big enough that issues of climate finance may have made it onto the agenda of a very illustrious group of economists.

photo: South African Tourism

As the Group of 20 prepare for this year’s summit in Cannes, the Finance Ministers of France and South Africa are raising the climate finance flag. In a joint declaration, they have called on their counterparts to recognise the G20’s key role in ensuring that OECD countries mobilise their pledge of USD 100 billion per year by 2020 to help developing countries cope with the many challenges that climate change brings.

It’s little surprising that South Africa is taking an active stance on this. Less than three weeks after the G20 summit, thousands of people will be bound for Durban, for this year’s Conference of Parties. But if President Zuma really wants his climate conference to yield lasting success, he would extend the debate on quantity to include one on quality. While it’s critical that climate money is spent, safeguards must be in place to ensure that it’s spent right.

The need for transparency and accountability is still somewhat taboo in diplomatic circles, since this would admit the risk of corruption. The same goes for climate change. This needs to change.

Transparency and accountability in climate finance might mean the difference between a coastal defence wall built by a professional and one built by an amateur who paid a bribe. It might mean that climate money ends up stashed in offshore bank accounts, or that a country’s greenhouse gas emissions are far higher than they claim. The consequences could be devastating for all of us.

It is not too late to ward against this. The climate financing apparatus is still in its infancy, with some important decisions about its future institutions still pending. Putting practical transparency and accountability measures in place now will prevent a lot of money going to waste later on down the line. This means making all financial flows open to the public, clear rules on measuring impact of climate projects, external inspectors who monitor performance, grievance mechanisms to report abuse, and strict penalties for malpractice.

Safeguarding climate finance will require far-reaching institutional reform. If it happens, then people will be able to report problems in projects and misallocated funds before lasting damage is done.

We have written a letter to President Jacob Zuma urging him to show decisive leadership at the G20 negotiating table, and advocate for factoring robust anti-corruption mechanisms into this design (or reform) process.

Whether he acts on this at the Cannes Summit next week will tell us a lot about the chances of success in Durban at the end of the month.

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