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Where’s the money? Climate Fight podcast part 1 transcript

Illustration of a balance with the world on one side and money on the other.
Climate finance: where does the money go? CalypsoArt/Shutterstock

This is a transcript of part 1 of Climate Fight: the world’s biggest negotiation, a series from The Anthill Podcast. In this episode, Where’s the money? we’re talking about climate finance – money pledged by the world’s richest countries to help the poorest parts of the world adapt to and mitigate the effects of climate change. Where is it being spent and is it really working?

NOTE: Transcripts may contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting in print

Climate fight: the world’s biggest negotiation is a series supported by UK Research and Innovation, the UK’s largest public funder of research and innovation.

Jack Marley: From wildfires in Algeria, to mega floods in China, the climate crisis is a fact of life no matter where you live on Earth, and we can only tackle it through international cooperation.

In November 2021 Glasgow is hosting COP26 – that’s the United Nations Climate Change Conference. For the 26th time, leaders from around the world will come together to plan how to tackle the most urgent challenge of our time.

But how will countries reduce their greenhouse gas emissions to stop global heating? How will we protect people, their homes and their livelihoods? And how will it be paid for?

From The Conversation, welcome to a new series by The Anthill podcast: Climate Fight: The world’s biggest negotiation.

Jack: I’m Jack Marley – environment editor at The Conversation and based in Newcastle, England. I’m going to take you inside the fight for our future planet. Over five episodes we’ll speak to experts researching the politics and economics of the climate crisis and working on solutions, and also some of the people living with the consequences.

Because, this yearly climate conference isn’t the only place we negotiate what happens to our planet. That negotiation is happening right now, in every part of the world, among everyone who has a stake in preventing climate breakdown. This includes you, your neighbours, and people who live on the other side of the world.

And the first place we’re visiting is the coast of East Africa.

On Zanzibar Island, Tanzania, mangroves grow on the beaches and in the shallow ocean water. These are green leafy trees and the species in Zanzibar have roots sticking straight up out of the sand. These mangroves mean a lot to local people.

Biraya Issa Mussa: My name is Biraya Issa Mussa, a resident of Kisakasaka. I’m a mother of five children.

Jack: Biraya spoke to reporter Maryam Charles in Zanzibar. Biraya used to cut the nearby mangroves to make charcoal and firewood. Others used them to build houses, and Biraya would sometimes sell the wood at the market. Mangroves play a big role in the economies of tropical coastal communities around the world. But as Biraya knows, they’re also important to the local environment.

Biraya: We cut mangroves until our water started changing, it started tasting salty. There were places where people stopped farming because of the salty water entering the plantations. We therefore decided to stop cutting them because the water could get into our houses.

Jack: Mangroves filter the salt from sea water through their roots. They can even help protect against sea level rise. And they are one of the best habitats at storing carbon; something that needs to happen in all areas of the world if we’re going to limit global heating.

Several years ago the government of Tanzania and an international climate fund put money towards protecting mangroves. This meant stopping people from cutting down the plants, and people like Biraya lost their source of firewood and income.

Biraya: Even we women used to make charcoal. We no longer get the money we used to get. Since we stopped we’ve not received any support from the government but everyone is doing what they can to survive with the kids back at home.

Jack: The funding the government of Tanzania received is a form of climate finance; that’s money given every year in the order of billions of dollars to help countries adapt or mitigate the effects of climate change. And Biraya’s situation is an example of what can go wrong when local people aren’t properly considered in the way climate finance is spent.

You’re listening to Climate Fight part one — Where’s the money?

COP26: the world's biggest climate talks

This story is part of The Conversation’s coverage on COP26, the Glasgow climate conference, by experts from around the world.
Amid a rising tide of climate news and stories, The Conversation is here to clear the air and make sure you get information you can trust. More.

Jack: Climate breakdown disproportionately impacts people in the global south. In these warm climates, people face droughts and sea-level rise. To add to the injustice — these are usually the people who have contributed the least greenhouse gas emissions that scientists are now certain are causing the climate crisis.

Governments and other public and private sources pledged to give a total of $US100 billion dollars a year to poor countries by 2020, to help mitigate these disasters and to help them cut greenhouse gas emissions. This money goes to lots of different projects, like the protection of certain habitats, or the building of walls to guard against sea-level rise.

But what will spending the money right look like? Who should decide where it goes? And what is the moral and legal weight behind what rich countries owe poor countries? To understand more about what happened in Tanzania, I spoke to the person who researched it.

Jessica Omukuti: My name is Jessica Omukuti and I am COP26 researcher at the University of York, and so my work focuses on climate finance and how it’s delivered in the global south.

Jack: Jessica is one of four UK-based researchers awarded a UKRI COP26 Fellowship ahead of the event in Glasgow. We’ll be hearing from a few more of them throughout this series.

Jessica: The biggest section of discussions of climate finance is how do we support those who are least able to adapt to climate change, but also how do we accelerate mitigation actions.

Jack: In 2018, Jessica spent several months talking to locals in Zanzibar and on the Tanzanian mainland about the new mangrove measures, and asking how their lives had changed. The new programme started when Tanzania was looking for a way to protect against sea-level rise and also increase how much carbon it captured.

The Least Developed Countries fund gave them the money for the programme. That’s a small international fund to support the work of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Tanzania used part of the money to replant mangroves, have people make sure the seedlings didn’t die, and patrol to make sure the mangroves weren’t cut down.

Jessica: But then that protection of mangroves prevented communities from continuing to extract other uses from the mangroves. And even though when you look at this from a very high level you say, “Well, you know, there could be other ways for people to generate their income.”

The problem is that the project itself did not think of this, or they probably thought of it but then did not implement alternative measures. For those who lost the most or those who suffered the most from adaptation actions there were very immediate effects that were overlooked, for example losses to livelihoods, health effects because some people could not get the medicines that they required. There were also psychological effects; there were people who would be arrested, who would have their merchandise captured, and those effects were not accounted for when that project was being funded, and so the finance was probably generating harm that was not anticipated and that was not remedied.

Mangroves in Zanzibar.
Mangroves in Zanzibar. Marius Dobilas/Shutterstock

Khatibu Ali Vuai: My name is Khatibu Ali Vuai, a resident of Kisakasaka, Zanzibar. In our village, the main activity that majority of the people are involved in since the days of our ancestors is cutting mangroves, because this is a resource that was passed on to us by our ancestors. Therefore banning the use of mangroves has greatly affected me. I mainly used it in making charcoal which was my main source of income, taking care of the family and even educating them. We don’t have other means of survival.

Jack: Could you tell us what your main takeaway is from this case study in terms of how climate finance works and how it should work?

Jessica: Climate finance is one of the things that we need to address climate change. The people who suffer the most definitely will need a lot of help to just respond to the risks. But then the thing is climate finance it’s delivered in ways that does not generate the effect that it’s supposed to generate, and usually when people are thinking about we’ve allocated finance to a country like Tanzania and they’ve protected these many square miles of mangroves, in most cases at the international level or even at the national level there’s really very little thought about what does 20 square miles of mangroves mean for a household.

Read more: Climate adaptation finance is ineffective and must be more transparent

There’s a lot of research that says that adaptation is local— eventually the choice to adapt will happen at the local level. It’s by that household that says that, “Okay I’m so tired of losing my crops, I will adopt those drought-resistant crops that I see the government displaying around town.” And so the decision to adapt happens at the local level, and so we need systems at different levels to make sure that that decision at the local level is right but also that it does not affect them in a negative way.

Jack: We approached the Global Environment Facility, which manages the Least Developed Countries fund for comment, but are yet to get a response. Our reporter Maryam Charles also spoke to Said Juma Ally, acting director of the forest department in Zanzibar. He told her the government has been assisting local people to generate alternative incomes to cutting mangroves, such as seaweed farming, agriculture, and beekeeping.

Jack: Many different climate funds exist. One of the main ones is the Green Climate Fund, or the GCF. It was created by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to help developing countries. Jessica’s research looked for what could be improved in the fund, and again found that how the project would be carried out at the local level wasn’t a priority.

Jessica: I could not systematically identify how much on the GCF finance so far has been delivered to the local level. The reason why we couldn’t quantify that is because the GCF does not have a very consistent definition of what it means by the “local level”. This is quite important because the GCF in its policies it’s really committed to enabling adaptation at the local level, and because it is a mechanism that is supposed to contribute towards achieving the Paris Agreement, then this is quite important also because the Paris Agreement recognises that adaptation is a local issue, that adaptation needs to happen at the local level.

Jack: Jessica’s analysis of the GCF’s budgets also showed it was difficult to fund projects that give control to local groups on the ground.

Jessica: The GCF works through accredited entities. So accreditation is a process where the GCF kind of in a way vets the organisations that they work with, and the finding was that that the institutions that that are vetted and that eventually get approval to receive funding from the GCF have a capacity gap in working with local institutions to actually implement adaptation that is locally led. And so a lot of the institutions that the GCF works with do not have experience leading locally led adaptation. Instead they claim to be working with local actors, but they still have lots of control over adaptation.

Jack: In response to a request to comment on the issues raised in this story, a spokesperson for the Green Climate Fund told The Conversation that the principle of “country ownership” is crucial under the Paris Agreement. They said that while “respecting that principle, the GCF works in partnership with developing countries and our accredited entities to ensure adaptation action is based on local consultation, engagement and action.” The GCF said its partners “range from tiny island states in the Pacific through to very large African and Asian countries, so the context for what is meant by local action varies hugely.” And that it “works with many ‘direct access’ project partners who can deliver action close to the ground.”

Jack: How important do you think it is to get climate finance right?

Jessica: The urgency of climate change is growing bigger and bigger every day. We need to respond to these effects right now because they will grow bigger. But another thing is that there’s just not enough finance to go around. Developed countries committed to raising $US100 billion per year by 2020, and that was a commitment that was I think in 2009 and they’ve not been able to do that, and that’s why we need to get adaptation finance right. One is because climate change is really urgent. People are dying, people are losing their homes, and it will become even worse as we move forward, but also B is that there’s just not enough finance to be wasted.

Jack: The Conference of the Parties – or COP – has decided that there’s a moral obligation to send this climate finance to areas that need it most. That’s why at COP26, the issue will be up for debate again. But there’s also a legal obligation for this money to be sent from rich countries to poor countries.

Hapreet Kaur Paul: Most people may be familiar with development aid, but climate finance is conceptually distinct from development aid and it’s distinct because it’s rooted in this recognition in a legal treaty of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

My name is Harpreet Kaur Paul. I’m a human rights lawyer currently doing a PhD at Warwick Law School on climate justice; that the responsibility of certain countries for causing the climate crisis and the capacity to help solve it is different. This is referred to as the “common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities principle”; it’s enshrined in the 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, acknowledging that different countries have different capabilities and responsibility for addressing climate change.

Developing countries like Bangladesh which are experiencing things like sea-level rise — it’s a low-lying delta country — so sea-level rise means that salty water is coming into farmlands, destroying crops, impacting food security and livelihoods of people, and we know that all of these consequences are increasing in severity and in terms of how regular they are as a result of climate change. And the average person in Bangladesh contributes about ten times fewer emissions than the average person in the UK, 30 times fewer than the average person in the US, Canada or Australia.

Jack: And so where does finance come into that?

Hapreet: First, sticking at the international level at the 2009 Copenhagen climate negotiations, a lot of developing countries came together threatening to walk out largely because of what they perceived as lagging action by the world’s wealthier nations on reducing emissions

Newsclip: I think if you’d made it to Tuvalu you would have realised why we are so concerned about this issue. The entire population of Tuvalu lives below two metres of sea level. I make this as a strong and impassioned plea. We’ve had our proposal on the table for six months. Six months. It’s not the last two days of this meeting. I woke this morning and I was crying. And that’s not easy for a grown man to admit. The fate of my country rests in your hands. Thank you. clapping

Hapreet: So, in response developed nations did commit to provide scaled-up new and additional, predictable and adequate funding. And they set a goal of mobilising about US$100 billion per year by last year — 2020 — to address the needs of developing countries, and there’s a lot of divergence of opinions about the extent to which that ambition has been met. And in the absence of really clearly established accounting rules, each developed country has essentially been able to decide what it reports as climate finance. Wealthier countries have said they’re about 80% towards the target, whereas developing countries in civil society tend to put the figure or at around 10% to 15%.

This is mainly as a result of a couple of different issues. First, developed countries count everything, even loans, investments, insurance, and that means that a developed country can give a developing country a loan — say US$50 million — and even though that developing country might have to pay back US$60 million including interest, they can count it as a form of climate finance, which civil society in developing countries say really goes against that initial principle, which was supposed to ensure that developed countries really contributed to solving the problem and helping developing countries adjust, rather than essentially profiting from climate finance.

Jack: How far does this go back? You know, how long have developing countries like Bangladesh been making the case that it’s rich countries like the UK and the US who are most responsible for the crisis?

Hapreet: Very early on, you had small island developing states, arguing that countries least responsible for climate change, and yet most impacted, needed to be protected against having to redress the impacts alone. So in 1991, Vanuatu on behalf of the Alliance of Small Island States proposed a compensation for damages as a result of sea level rise mechanism.

And it wasn’t until the Warsaw COP that ultimately a mechanism came into existence. That was COP19 in 2013, where the G77, which was represented by Bolivia at the time and supported by small island developing states and least developing countries, said that there really needed to be a specific focus on what’s called “loss and damage”, the impacts of climate change that it’s really not possible to adjust to that go beyond what’s possible to adapt to. And since then, there’ve been lots of discussions about what the needs are, but very little action to address them.

Jack: So what legal frameworks can countries like Bangladesh rely on in order to offset these damages?

Hapreet: So, article eight of the Paris Agreement does recognise that loss and damage is occurring and that developing countries need support to address the impacts. Unfortunately, what we have is a context where the scale of de-carbonisation effort, isn’t large enough and we’re on track for escalating loss and damage into the future.

So, what developing countries are now advocating for when thinking about climate finance in the future, now that the US$100 billion by 2020 period is open to new negotiations, is thinking about what climate finance should look like into the future.

But there have also been recognition that those conversations are really, really difficult to have. Developed countries tend not to want to talk about increasing the US$100 billion amount or providing finance for loss and damage, and certainly not in a way that would implicate anything to do with responsibility or accountability. And that’s resulted in countries looking outside of the UNFCCC processes to try and get reparation or damages.

Hapreet: The Philippines has been subjected to super typhoons. Typhoon Haiyan triggered this piece of work that was brought to the Human Rights Commission by Greenpeace and others. The commission’s decision didn’t impose any immediate penalties on the companies that are disproportionately responsible for emissions, but it does set a legal argument for saying that fossil fuel companies and other major polluters could be forced to pay damages. As the scientific basis for the attribution of impacts to disproportionate emissions and increasing the risk of emissions becomes clearer, those types of cases will increase as well.

People in front of house destroyed by a typhoon.
A house destroyed by Typhoon Haiyan on the outskirts of Tacloban on Leyte island in the Philippines. Trocaire via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY

Jack: For a lot of reasons, it’s tricky to put a number on how much climate finance would actually be needed for the world to address the climate crisis and its impacts. Different groups have different estimates, but the numbers can get big, starting with the US dollars estimates from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – or the IPCC.

Hapreet: The IPCC estimates the costs of around US$1.6 to 3.8 trillion to move towards transformative energy systems. Then, given that regardless of whatever level of de-carbonisation mitigation we’re able to engage in, certain climate impacts are now unavoidable. Some of them we can adapt to, and the global commission on adaptation estimates that annual adaptation costs are likely to be about US$180 billion a year going forward.

And then thinking about those that are totally unavoidable. The types of impacts when a storm comes through and people lose their houses, their livelihoods, or homes fall into rivers that are being eroded, or as a result of sea level rise, whole countries, islands, or regions disappearing, and needing a form of repair to be able to rebuild dignified lives after that. Modelling from climate analytics estimates the costs of that type of impact – what we call loss and damage – will be reaching about 300 billion per year by 2030 in the global south alone.

Jack: How do you expect all of these issues to come up at COP26?

Hapreet: There’ll be lots of discussions about whether countries are doing enough to decarbonise and reduce the scale of accelerating climate impacts into the future. But we’ll also have discussions about what climate financing looks into the future. There’s a new finance goal to come into effect from 2025.

And what civil society in a lot of developing countries are calling for is new and additional sources for averting, minimising, and addressing climate change. Some climate-vulnerable forum countries are talking about increasing the goal to US$150 billion per year with US$50 billion being allocated to mitigation, US$50 billion to adaptation, US$50 billion to loss and damage. But as I said earlier, those scales really are Insignificant compared to what’s actually needed.

Jack: Negotiation over climate finance takes a lot of forms. Harpreet says in the year leading up to the event, diplomats will meet with the presidency – this year the UK. Smaller countries like Bangladesh will make their case as part of a bloc of countries; having group positions strengthens their bargaining power. They will make their case during the two weeks at COP as well, but these are closed negotiation rooms which we often only hear about through statements if people are unhappy with the negotiations.

Hapreet: Often developing countries are looking to negotiate as a block of the G77 and China together against developed countries. And that’s when issues are more likely to be heard, unfortunately it’s not so much that those most impacted have a proportional say, unfortunately. And a lot of it has to do with other political power, wealth, that is concentrated in and among those countries that are most responsible.

What’s really important to consider in this context is different types of power. So there’s the kind of political power that early industrialisers have, the power of deciding what gets funded and what doesn’t as a result of economic power as well. And then I think there is a form of moral power, that is brought to bear as well and loss and damage really has leveraged that. And it’s striking to me that when typhoon Haiyan was ravaging the Philippines, the negotiator at the time, I think, Yeb Sano decided to go on a hunger strike and many others joined him in civil society in, in developing countries to really call for a mechanism within the UN process that would take loss and damage seriously.

In showing that kind of colossal devastation in the fact that developing countries are insignificantly responsible historically for the emissions that are exacerbating the storms and the sea level rise and the droughts and wildfires that are occurring, there was a moral power that was leveraged. And I think that is probably something we’re going to see increasingly through the youth movement, on the streets outside of negotiations as much as inside.

Jack: Climate finance has, in the past, been marred by difficult negotiations. Looking to the future, what can we expect to happen?

Alina Averchenkova: Hello, I’m Alina Averchenkova and I’m a distinguished policy fellow at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics, and my work focuses on climate legislation, climate governance, and implementation of the Paris Agreement.

Jack: Alina’s worked on an assessment of how much of the $US100 billion - the target amount to be moving to poor countries each year by 2020 - has actually been met. The data they have is for 2018.

Alina: That’s the latest accounting year that’s available. And to one of such assessments was the technical task team put together by the United Nations Secretary General last year and I was part of that group. And so in our report, we have looked at extrapolating the past trends and also taking into account the impact of the global pandemic. And our assessment was that it’s likely that while we could see a consistent growth in climate change finance mobilised over the past decade, our assessment was that we’re likely to come short for the end of 2020.

Jack: A separate analysis of 2019 from the OECD said climate finance that year totalled US$80 billion. Remember the goal was US$100 billion per year by 2020. We’re still waiting on the data from that year.

Looking to the future, US President Joe Biden announced in April 2021 that the US would double its climate finance commitments by 2024. This is of course after Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump, withdrew from the Paris Agreement all together and fell back on the US climate finance pledge.

Alina: I think it’s so fantastic to have the United States back to the negotiating table and as part of the Paris Agreement. The United States has always been a major donor. It’s really important that they are coming back and coming back also to climate finance agenda.

Jack: In September, at a United Nations meeting, President Biden gave another update.

Joe Biden clip: I’m proud to announce that we’ll work with the congress to double that number again. This will make the United States the leader in public climate finance.

Jack: This brings the US total to $US11.4 billion a year by 2024. But some still say that’s not the country’s fair share. The Overseas Development Institute argues the US should be giving upwards of $US43 billion a year, based on its gross national income, cumulative emissions and population.

As we decide how much money there will be for the world’s most vulnerable to adapt and mitigate climate change, we’re at a unique point in history.

Alina: I think on one hand pandemic exacerbated the needs of developing countries and put more pressure on developed countries on their public finance as well. At the same time, I think the recovery from the pandemic offers an immense opportunity because quite significant packages that are being committed globally to recovery from the current crisis. And we have this opportunity to invest into activities and into sectors for recovery that put us on a low-carbon path, which is compatible with the objectives of the Paris Agreement and with the need to come to net zero emissions by the middle of the century.

So it is quite an important point in time and I hope that COP26 will be the place where the world leaders – political leaders, but also financial leaders – would really have that conversation and commit to taking climate into account.

Jack: When we talk about giving money to protect people against climate change, there’s an elephant in the room. We’re still releasing more carbon dioxide and causing more global heating. Global carbon dioxide emissions have been steadily rising. And after falling during the pandemic, the International Energy Agency expects energy-related carbon dioxide emissions to grow by 4.8% in 2021. We’re fighting a monster while we continue to make that monster bigger. Countries will need to cut emissions or remove carbon dioxide from the air, or both.

And that’s what we’ll explore next time. The path to net zero.

Myles Allen: The only other alternative is to require that anyone still using fossil fuels disposes safely and permanently of the carbon dioxide generated by the fossil fuels they use.

Jack: Thanks to everybody who spoke to us for this episode.

The Anthill is produced by The Conversation in London. You can get in touch with us on on Twitter @TC_Audio, on Instagram at theconversationdotcom or email us on And you can also sign up for our free daily email by clicking the link in the show notes.

If you’re enjoying the series, please follow the show, and leave a rating or review wherever podcast apps allow you to. Please tell your friends and family about the show too.

Climate fight: the world’s biggest negotiation is produced for The Conversation by Tiffany Cassidy. Reporting in Zanzibar by Maryam Charles. Sound design is by Eloise Stevens and the series theme tune is by Neeta Sarl. Our editor is Gemma Ware and production help comes from Holly Stevens. Thanks also go to Will de Freitas, Jo Adetunji, Mend Mariwany, Chris Waiting, Khalil Cassimally, Alice Mason and Zoe Jazz at The Conversation. To James Harper and his team at UKRI. And to Imriel Morgan and Sharai White for helping us to promote the series. And thanks also to Dasheen Moodley.

I’m Jack Marley. Thanks for listening.

UK Research and Innovation (UKRI)

Climate fight: the world’s biggest negotiation is a podcast series supported by UK Research and Innovation, the UK’s largest public funder of research and innovation.

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