The Paris Climate Agreement is a massive success for diplomacy; its speedy entrance into force last Friday perhaps even more so. Yet at the same time the international climate community faces an even greater challenge: enacting the agreed upon measures to live up to the agreement’s aims and to achieve complete global decarbonization over the coming decades.
Governments already submitted reduction targets in the form of intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs) in the run up to the Paris summit. An initial revision of these proposed targets is expected in 2018, with the expectation that countries will increase their ambition to underscore the seriousness of global efforts. The financial framework for implementing the climate agreement has also been staked out: from 2020 100 billion USD per year is to be made available from different sources to support climate action in developing countries.
But what might sound all set is actually just the opposite. As climate action takes centre stage in international discussions, climate politics moves out of its comfort zone. Up until now, long unresolved international frameworks and stalled negotiations have served as a useful alibi to excuse the implementation deficits relating to previously agreed measures, mainly in the climate finance arena.
In the international climate financing waiting room
Scrutiny of the progress on global climate finance to date provides ample grounds for scepticism. Many climate action measures approved for financial support by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) are taking over a year to reach the implementation phase. Reviewing the large-scale projects that have been approved and where implementation is currently underway, it took over 18 months on average to pass from approval to implementation.
As the GEF is currently the central financing instrument for global climate action, it is important to ask why this process is taking so long. In 2015 there were climate-change-related projects worth over half a billion dollars that had been approved by the GEF but not yet started. This USD 647 million is just a very small fraction of the 100 billion that the international community has pledged to distribute each year - it is therefore crucial to consider what will happen when we actually reach that number and are unable to start implementing.
Significant delays become apparent if we take a closer look at how long it actually takes for programmes aimed at reducing greenhouse gases or adapting to a changing climate to actually start. As stated already, there is on average a year between the funding decision on the part of the donor and the start of implementation. This also does not factor in the considerable amount of time that developing countries spend preparing proposals, given the multitude of requirements established by each fund.
These delays show that the financial infrastructure of both the donor bodies and recipient countries is already overloaded. With the number and complexity of project applications set to grow significantly in future, so too will the challenges these overstretched institutions face.
The Green Climate Fund to the rescue?
Enter the Green Climate Fund (GCF), which is to play a leading role in the future distribution of climate financing. The GCF can count on the more than USD 10 billion already pledged as starting capital. Many donors, like the German federal government, have already pledged further funding. However, since 2015 only 27 projects have been given the green light, due to the complicated and burdensome approval process. Even though some kind of learning curve is to be expected, it is impossible not to worry about the pace at which the whole process is moving forward.
In addition, so far only ten national institutions worldwide have been accredited for direct access to the climate funding. Other countries remain dependent on the support of international partners, and the example of the Adaptation Fund proves that such channels are often not capable of expediting the process. In the last three fiscal years, the average time from first cash transfer to project start has taken (much) longer when multilateral actors rather than national institutions have served as the implementing entities.
This single fact has already led to significant displeasure on the part of many developing countries, as recently demonstrated when the GCF Board last met at its headquarters in Songdo, South Korea, in late October. A strategy to improve the integration of those countries was discussed, but nothing was agreed. These discussions are certain to be continued.
To summarise, climate financing, a key factor in successfully implementing international climate efforts, is moving at a crawl when it should be sprinting. The barriers to implementation could quickly lead to new problems with credibility. There is therefore a need for an honest and unsparing appraisal of current implementation deficits right at the start of the COP22 in Marrakesh, followed by measures to usher in truly transformative climate action.