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Africa: Climate Debt Deferred, 1

AfricaFocus Bulletin
Nov 9, 2010 (101109)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

"Responsibility for these [greenhouse gas] emissions lies principally with the developed countries. With less than one fifth of the world's population they have grown wealthy while emitting almost three quarters of all historic GHG emissions into an atmosphere they share with all life on Earth." - Climate Debt Primer, Third World Network

Rich countries have not accepted the concept of climate debt, which would imply binding obligations to take action, but at Copenhagen last year they did pledge "to provide new and additional resources, including forestry and investments through international institutions, approaching USD 30 billion for the period 2010 - 2012" as a "fast start" commitment to mitigation and adaptation programs in developing countries. Fulfilling even this pledge, however, seems to be off to a slow start.

This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains excerpts from a report from the World Development Movement detailing the extent to which rich countries have actually delivered on their "fast start" climate pledges - only 13 percent delivered to date, only 7 percent actual new commitments. The Bulletin also contains excerpts from the Third World Network's primer on climate debt, explaining the basic concepts.

Another AfricaFocus Bulletin released today, available on the web at, but not sent out by e-mail, contains a recent civil society statement outlining priorities and principles for climate change financing, and a brief analysis from the Brookings Institution of the report of the UN's High-Level Advisory Group on Climate Change Financing.

Additional background resources with recent information include:

Report of the Secretary-General's High-level Advisory Group on Climate Change Financing
Direct URL:

Civil Society Papers and Statements on Climate Financing

Climate Debt Resources

Climate Debt - World Development Movement

World People's Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth (Cochabamba Conference April 2010, and follow-up)

Third World Network Briefings on Climate Change Negotiations

For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on the environment and climate change, visit

++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note++++++++++++++++++++

A long way to go

An update on the state of fast start climate finance

World Development Movement

September 2010


1. Fast start climate finance to date

"The collective commitment by developed countries is to provide new and additional resources, including forestry and investments through international institutions, approaching USD 30 billion for the period 2010 - 2012 with balanced allocation between adaptation and mitigation. Funding for adaptation will be prioritized for the most vulnerable developing countries, such as the least developed countries, small island developing States and Africa." Copenhagen Accord, December 2009

In Copenhagen in December 2009, developed countries committed to provide "approaching" $30 billion to developing countries to help them tackle climate change between 2010 and 2012. Furthermore this money would be "new and additional". 'New' would commonly be understood to mean that it was money which had not been announced before. 'Additional' means it would be additional to developed countries pre-existing aid commitments.

However, nine months into 2010, developed countries have done little to reveal how they are meeting their pledges. On 3 September, the Netherlands published a voluntary database where governments can disclose how they are meeting their pledges and on what money is being spent. So far, only six countries have put information on this website, and not all have given full details of their spending.

Using the Dutch website, and information in the public domain, World Development Movement has done the work of developed countries for them to reveal how much money has been pledged, committed and actually given, how much is additional and new, and how much is being given through the World Bank and as loans. Our research shows that of the $30 billion:

  • Only $27.5 billion was ever pledged.
  • Just 26 per cent ($7.9 billion) has actually been committed to specific bilateral or multilateral programmes. For example, Canada, Denmark, Finland and Ireland have not yet made any announcements as to how their money will be spent.
  • Just 13 per cent ($3.9 billion) has actually been given so far. The vast majority of this is from Japan's Cool Earth Partnership, which was first announced in 2008.
  • Just 7 per cent ($2.2 billion) is additional to pre-existing aid commitments. The Netherlands has made all of its fast start finance additional to its aid commitments. However, most countries, including the UK, are double-counting all of their fast start finance as helping to meet their aid commitments as well, such as those agreed at the G8 meeting in Gleneagles, Scotland, in 2005.
  • Just 17 per cent ($5.2 billion) is clearly new money which had not been announced before Copenhagen. For example, $770 million of UK fast start finance was first announced in 2007. $14 billion of Japan's $15 billion pledge was first announced in 2008 (and it includes money from the private sector in this total as well). A long way to go An update on the state of fast start climate finance

Moreover, of the $7.9 billion which has been committed so far:

  • 42 per cent ($3.3 billion) is to be given to the World Bank.
  • 47 per cent ($3.7 billion) is to be given to programmes which will give loans rather than grants
  • Less than 1 per cent ($70 million) is to be given to the UN Adaptation Fund, the main fund established by international negotiations to help developing countries adapt to climate change.


2. The UN Adaptation Fund

"Long championed by the Philippines, the direct access modality in the Adaptation Fund was crafted and agreed in the UN as an alternative to conditionality-spiked, inefficient, bureaucratic funding from Multilateral Development Banks. Among global climate funds, the Adaptation Fund represents today the benchmark in terms of accountability principles, democratic governance and accessible, developing country-sensitive, non- ODA driven financing mechanisms." Red Constantino, Institute for Climate and Sustainable Cities, the Philippines

Donors are "in danger of completely failing to respect the preferences of most vulnerable countries on how [climate] money should be managed. It is no secret that these countries welcomed the establishment of the Adaptation Fund. And it is equally clear that many of them have serious reservations about funding being channelled bilaterally or through other existing international financial institutions, such as the Global Environment Facility or the World Bank. ... There is a strong perception among developing country stakeholders that the choice of non-UN channels is meant to undermine the UN climate change regime. ... The promised quick start funding provides a unique chance to recover some of the trust that has been lost on the way to, and at, Copenhagen. Whether it is realized will depend not only on whether the pledges are actually redeemed, but also whether the operational preferences of the recipients are respected." Benito Mller, University of Oxford

The UN Adaptation Fund was established in Poznan in December 2008. The Adaptation Fund is unique among climate funds. Firstly, the Adaptation Fund has been created through international negotiations with agreement from all parties. This stands in contrast to funds, such as the World Bank climate investment funds, which have been created at the instigation of donors. The UN Adaptation Fund therefore has far more support and active participation amongst recipient countries.

Secondly, the Adaptation Fund has a unique bottom-up approach to finance. Any developing country party to the Kyoto protocol can apply for money, with requests judged by the Adaptation Fund board. Projects and programmes are designed in-country, leading to greater country ownership and so better outcomes. When Spain donated œ35 million in April 2010, the Adaptation Fund said that this was noteworthy because: "the money will be disbursed at the sole discretion of the Adaptation Fund Board to meet the most pressing funding needs of developing countries, without any conditions superimposed by the donor."

The Philippines Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile says: "A unique feature of the Adaptation Fund is to provide developing countries direct access to the Fund without having to pass through multilateral development banks such as the World Bank."

Funding for Adaptation Fund projects is given through a recognised implementing entity. This can be a multilateral organisation such as the United Nations Development Programme, but can also be a civil society organisation, such as the Centre de Suivi Ecologique in Senegal, an association which reports to the Ministry of Environment. The ability of civil society organisations to access funds directly is a unique feature for an international funder.

The Adaptation Fund will support urgent projects to help countries deal with the impacts of climate change they are already experiencing, such as increased drought and floods. These projects will help to limit the damage of climate change, and prevent the need for more expensive emergency assistance. The UN Adaptation Fund has begun to be inundated with requests for support. So far, 14 countries have requested money, including five Least Developed Countries, three small island development states, six African countries and 12 low income countries.

For example:

  • Pakistan wants to improve the ability of the north of the country to cope with floods, for example by improving drainage systems. Rainfall in northern Pakistan has increased over the last 40 years, and scientists predict that climate change will increase the strength of the summer monsoon, as has occurred so tragically this year. Funding work to make Pakistan more able to cope with floods would both decrease the suffering caused by flooding and cut the costs of reconstruction.
  • Senegal wants to increase coastal protection to prevent rice cultivation areas from being flooded with salt water, which devastates crop yields. It is estimated that the economic cost of rising sea-levels in coastal countries such as Senegal could be up to 14 per cent of GDP.
  • Nicaragua wants to build infrastructure to store rainwater, to increase water security in times of drought. Annual precipitation in Nicaragua is predicted to decrease as climate change worsens, and there is some evidence that this has begun to happen.


The main block to successful use of the UN Adaptation Fund is its lack of money. So far, the UN Adaptation Fund has been given $110 million from a tax on carbon offsets, and $7 million from donors; $180 million in total. The $70 million given so far by donors can be contrasted with the $6.2 billion given to the World Bank climate investment funds by donors over recent years.

Projects currently submitted to the UN Adaptation Fund request between just $3 million and $15 million. Such small amounts will be able to have only a limited impact in particular locations. Rich countries urgently need to meet their commitments and give significant resources out of their pledged fast start finance to the UN Adaptation Fund.

In UNFCCC negotiations, developing countries have continually stated that climate finance needs to be under the authority of the UNFCCC. The establishment and usage of democratic UNFCCC funds is vital not only to ensuring developing country ownership of climate finance. It is also a prerequisite to building up trust and ultimately reaching new international agreements on tackling climate change. Unfortunately, the UN Adaptation Fund has received less than 1 per cent of money committed by donors so far as fast start finance, and 0.3 per cent of money pledged in Copenhagen.

Eleventh meeting of the UN Adaptation Fund board

The eleventh meeting of the Adaptation Fund board will take place in Bonn, Germany, on 16 and 17 September 2010. The meeting will discuss proposals for funding from Senegal, Egypt, Guatemala, Honduras, Madagascar, Mongolia, Niue and Uganda. The Board is drawn from an equal representation of UN regions, countries particularly vulnerable to climate change, and developed and developing country parties to the Kyoto protocol. The Board currently consists of individuals from:

  1. Senegal, representing Africa
  2. South Africa, representing Africa
  3. China, representing Asia
  4. Qatar, representing Asia
  5. Poland, representing Eastern Europe
  6. Georgia, representing Eastern Europe
  7. Jamaica, representing Latin America and the Caribbean
  8. Uruguay, representing Latin America and the Caribbean
  9. Norway, representing Western Europe
  10. Sweden, representing Western Europe
  11. Fiji, representing Small Island Developing States
  12. Tanzania, representing Least-Developed Countries
  13. France, representing developed country parties to Kyoto
  14. Japan, representing developed country parties to Kyoto
  15. Colombia, representing developing country parties to Kyoto
  16. Pakistan, representing developing country parties to Kyoto

Climate Debt: A Primer

Third World Network, June 2009

[excerpts only: full text, with figures and footnotes, available at]

A wealthy minority of the world's countries and corporations are the principal cause of climate change; its adverse effects fall first and foremost on the majority that is poor. This basic and undeniable truth forms the foundation of the global climate justice movement.

Climate change threatens the balance of life on Earth and with it human communities everywhere. Addressing climate change requires urgent actions by all peoples, rich and poor, and all countries, developed and developing.

But to be effective the response to climate change must also be fair. Developing countries and communities are unlikely to ignore the wealthy's historical responsibility for the causes and consequences of climate change. Nor are they likely to sit by while a wealthy minority continues to consume an excessive proportion of the Earth's limited environmental space. Nor should they.

Responsibilities of the rich

Atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases are higher today than anytime in millennia. Emitted since the industrial revolution, they have built up in the atmosphere, blanketing the Earth and causing considerable warming. Responsibility for these emissions lies principally with the developed countries. With less than one fifth of the world's population they have grown wealthy while emitting almost three quarters of all historic GHG emissions into an atmosphere they share with all life on Earth.

Problems of the poor

The excessive emissions of the wealthy have destabilized the climate, harming the poor and threatening our future. Already, climate change is causing the oceans to rise and acidify; melting ice caps, glaciers and permafrost; damaging forests, coral reefs and other ecosystems; and intensifying fires, floods, droughts and other extreme weather events. It is increasing water stress, hindering the production of food, altering disease vectors and threatening the infrastructure and resources that are the life-blood of millions of people. Poor countries and communities that have done least to cause climate change suffer first and worst from its adverse effects.

The concept of climate debt

For their disproportionate contribution to the causes of climate change and its adverse effects, developed countries owe a two-fold climate debt.

For over-using and substantially diminishing the Earth's capacity to absorb greenhouse gases - denying it to the developing countries that most need it in the course of their development - the developed countries have run up an "emissions debt" to developing countries.

For the adverse effects of these excessive emissions - contributing to the escalating losses, damages and lost development opportunities facing developing countries - the developed countries have run up an "adaptation debt" to developing countries.

The sum of these debts - emissions debt and adaptation debt - constitutes the "climate debt" of developed countries.

Emissions debt

The extent of developed countries' emission debt reflects their excessive past, present and proposed future use of shared environmental space. With less than 20% of the population, developed countries have produced more than 70% of historical emissions since 1850, far more than their fair share based on equal per-person emissions.

After diminishing the Earth's environmental space - denying it to poor countries and communities - the same rich countries now propose consuming a disproportionate share of the remaining space through until 2050 when compared to an equal per-capita share.

Developed countries representing a minority of people have appropriated the major part of a shared global resource for their own use - a resource that belongs to all and should be fairly shared with the majority of people.

By basing their future "assigned amounts" of emissions on their past excessive levels, they are effectively proposing to write-off the full amount of their historical emissions debt), and to simultaneously appropriate trillions of dollars of remaining atmospheric space which should rightfully be allocated to the South.

Their proposals, if adopted, would lock developing countries into low and rapidly decreasing per-capita shares, denying them the environmental space needed to build the houses, schools, roads and infrastructure that developed world already has. Their proposals would deepen the debt of developed countries rather than honoring it, leveraging past injustices into a future climate regime, and proposing a system in which the "polluter profits" and the "poor pays" for the excessive historical and current consumption of the rich countries.

Adaptation debt

As well as freeing up environmental space, developed countries must accept responsibility for the adverse effects of their historical and continuing high per-person emissions on poor communities and countries. Among the hardest hit are:

  • Farmers and farming communities. In some countries rain-fed agriculture is expected to drop by up to 50% by 2020, leaving millions of people without food.
  • Indigenous and local communities. Indigenous peoples and local communities are harmed by changing ecosystems and threats to traditional livelihoods.
  • Women. 70% of the world's poor are women. Women provide half of the world's food. They are hardest hit by climate change and must be at the center of any solution.
  • Poor communities. At particular risk are people concentrated in high-risk areas, such as coastal and river flood plains, or areas prone to extreme weather events.
  • People relying on scarce water resources. Between 75 and 250 million of people are likely to face increased water stress by 2020 due to climate change.
  • Communities susceptible to health impacts. The health of millions of people will likely be affected through increased malnutrition, increased disease burden and death and injury due to extreme weather events.

These impacts are caused by the historical emissions that have led to current levels of warming, and that will lead to considerable future "committed" warming as the Earth's oceans and other systems warm. The very existence of some communities is threatened while others face serious impediments to their efforts to lift billions of people out of poverty and to promote development.

There is no way to predict the full extent of future adverse impacts and costs - emission pathways are uncertain and the climate system is too complex. However, any just approach to climate change must ensure that those who have benefited in the course of causing climate change compensate the victims of climate change. They should cover the full costs of avoiding adverse impacts and provide compensation for those harms that cannot be avoided. This constitutes the adaptation debt of the rich industrialized world to poor countries, communities and people.


Repaying climate debt

The wealthy industrialized world must take responsibility for repaying the full measure of their climate debt. Doing so is not merely right; it also provides the basis of an effective climate solution. A fair and effective climate solution requires at a minimum that:

  • Developed countries repay the full measure of their adaptation debt to the developing countries and communities who did little to cause climate change and are its first victims. They must provide financing and technology to ensure full compensation for losses suffered, and the means to avoid or minimize future impacts where possible. They should commit to fully repay their adaptation debt to developing countries, commencing immediately.
  • Developed countries must repay the full measure of their emission debt to developing countries and communities. There will be no sustainable climate solution if developed countries seek to continue polluting at 70% or more of their 1990 levels all the way through until 2020 (consistent with 30% cuts). To avoid deepening their debt, developed countries must seek to become carbon neutral and more. Reflecting their historical responsibility, their assigned amounts of atmospheric space in any future year should be even lower. They must take a lead in cutting emissions through deep domestic reductions, and by accepting assigned amounts that reflect the full extent of their historical emissions debt.
  • Developed countries must provide the financing and technology required by developing countries to live under the twin constraints of a more hostile climate and restricted atmospheric space. They must honor their obligation to provide the full incremental costs of emission reductions undertaken in developing countries, so that these countries can play their part in curbing climate change, while still meeting the needs and aspirations of their people.

AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

AfricaFocus Bulletin can be reached at Please write to this address to subscribe or unsubscribe to the bulletin, or to suggest material for inclusion. For more information about reposted material, please contact directly the original source mentioned. For a full archive and other resources, see

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