Publish What You Fund has begun to work on bridging the gap between aid transparency and climate finance. This week, as international climate change delegates meet in Doha, we teamed up with Climate and Development Knowledge Network  and ODI’s Climate Funds Update  to highlight the potential for the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) to be used as a tool for climate finance transparency.

At the International Climate Conference in Copenhagen (COP15) in 2009 the developed countries agreed to the goal of mobilizing $100 billion a year by 2020 towards the cost of addressing climate change in developing countries. These funds are already starting to flow, through a range of intermediaries, instruments, channels, and end-users.

One of the things that almost everyone at this years COP can agree on, is that transparency is crucial to understanding whether commitments are being kept, and how the money is being spent.  The UN Work Programme on Long Term Financing led by Georg Børsting of Norway and Zaheer Fakir of South Africa has reported back to delegates that simple manageable systems are urgently needed to improve the transparency of climate flow, through a range of intermediaries, instruments, channels, and end-users.

Another thing many will agree with is that tracking climate finance hard. For a start there is the complex and confusing spaghetti tangle of actors. Then there is the lack of any clear definition on what should be counted ‘in’ and what should be counted ‘out’. Then there are the overlapping reporting streams between aid and climate finance, not to mention the added complication of working out how to account for leveraged funds from the private sector.

However you would find much less agreement as to what the acronym IATI stands for – is it the Irish Ambulance Training Institute, International Alliance of Technology Integrators or the International Aid Transparency Initiative – and in any case how is it relevant to climate change?

The picture of complex and diverse flows and hard to publish, hard to find data is common to both aid and climate finance. Our report  Towards Climate Finance Transparency, argues that IATI offers a potential solution to improving access to information about both. In fact almost of a third of climate finance provided during the ‘fast start’ initial period since 2009 has been handled by agencies that are already committed to implementing the IATI standard.

But discussions on climate finance reporting are disconnected from discussions on aid transparency. Instead they tend to focus on drawing up a single common reporting template and a central database for tracking the figures submitted every two years.  Because of the difficulty of agreeing such a ‘common tabular format’ it is likely to tend towards a minimalist approach, leaving out much more information than it includes.

The aid transparency movement demonstrates that it does not have to be this way. Rich information can be reported in a common format which meets both the need for high-level statistics and useful, practical information. IATI provides a data standard and a registry which makes comparable, comprehensive, accessible and up-to-date information practically possible.

Adopting IATI for climate finance would not resolve the political questions determining what is ‘in’ or ‘out’ for the purposes answering the US$100 billion dollar question. This is a matter for continued discussion at meetings like the one in Doha. But it would provide a simple, manageable and powerful system to improve climate finance transparency; both to inform these international discussions and to provide finance and line ministries, civil society, legislators and citizens with the information they need now to ensure that resources available are used well.