Money is supposed to buy us out of the climate crisis

Guest post by Lisa Ann Elges, Transparency International 

Climate finance is packaged as a remedy to help cure its symptoms and causes. It comes in envelopes of different sizes, all donning the ‘transparency’ label – this is public money for a public cause, after all.

But the fine print tells us more.

At Transparency International (TI), we have been scrutinising those details to find out whether or not climate money will be sufficiently guarded from the forces of corruption – forces that steal a little here or cut corners there – from destroying efforts to stop the ravages of climate change.

We have been looking into some of the big multilateral climate funds (huge pots of money put aside for climate mitigation and adaptation) and asking how well they are set up to prevent the misuse of climate dollars.

Financial transparency is an important first step in that direction. Probing beneath the numbers we also sought clarity over the people and structures in place to decide how, and how well, climate money is spent. We examined who is accountable to whom, for what, by what processes, and what penalties are in place to punish and deter wrongdoing – from the executive level down to the projects on the ground.

So far, disclosure on accountability arrangements has not been a strong suit. As money moves through the funds, it becomes less and less clear who is in charge and what rules apply. Clinging to confidentiality is part of the problem. The funds have a clear disdain for revealing sensitive and secret details found in, say, business contracts and audit reports. The other problem is information burial.

Reports, contracts, policies and other key papers are often not directly accessible through the funds’ websites and require long searches to unearth. This means it can be very difficult to find out who exactly is getting and spending climate money, for what projects, and what happens if it is misused. Equally, knowing who is qualified to report and investigate cases of corruption or fraud is not straightforward. Whistle-blower protection is possible, but not necessarily for everyone.

Making accountability policies and practice transparent, accessible and understandable is crucial to empower people to act – to expose problems and demand answers. This is particularly necessary at the local level. TI chapters in nine countries have been following this same line of investigation – struggling with sometimes severe limits on access to information in an attempt to map climate money flows and accountability chains in-country.

A citizen’s network has been mobilized in Bangladesh to oversee public decision-making and spending. In the Dominican Republic, Kenya, Maldives, Papua New Guinea and Vietnam, TI is providing a referral service for corruption complaints for local communities. Our work relies on and demands transparency.

The good news is that it is still possible to tighten the reigns on climate finance governance. Our assessment of multilateral climate funds did reveal some strong performance on transparency for business and financial reporting.

Many funds have committed to the International Aid Transparency Initiative, for example. Some are moving towards better disclosure of contractual information also. These good practices show a clear commitment to making things open and fair. Better information on accountability is sure to follow.

The TI-hosted Climate Finance Integrity Talks are aimed at building a road-map towards that end – to push the debate on anti-corruption in climate finance so that policy and practical solutions might be found to existing or foreseen challenges.

The latest in the series was held on the sidelines of the 19th Climate Change Conference in Warsaw, at which Publish What You Fund participated. The conference is a forum for climate funds, multilateral development banks, implementing agencies, NGOs, universities and think tanks to engage in an open discussion on how accountability can practically be achieved through better transparency, citizen participation and coordinated actions in developing countries. For more information on the outcomes of that discussion please contact me directly.

 

Lisa Elges

Lisa Ann Elges – Lisa leads Transparency International’s Climate Finance Integrity Programme. In her current role, Lisa served as an observer on the Scaling-up Renewable Energy Programme (SREP) of the Climate Investment Funds (CIF) and represents TI at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the International Panel on Climate Change, and the Global Environmental Facility NGO Network. She directs the advocacy programme of AdaptationWatch and serves as advisor to the Adaptation Fund NGO Network. 

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