Copenhagen Climate Conference

What Is Transparency?

The climate change negotiations here in Copenhagen seem to be split over one issue more than others: transparency.

Heads of government seem to be acknowledging in their addresses that climate change is real. For many ordinary people, this is something that politicians do not seem to say very often. They are acknowledging that something must be done and that whatever that something is, it needs to start very soon. They all agree that it will cost an enormous amount of money – the figures seem to vary, but thay are all stratospherically high. We can presume it is a lot of money. They also all seem to agree that wealthier nations should be assisting poorer nations financially.

If this is so, why is a deal so hard to reach?

One answer appears to be ‘transparency’.

Offers of financing are all accompanied by some degree of oversight and transparency to ensure that the money is spent on the purpose for which it is intended.

This is the dirty secret of international aid. I have a personal friend that was previously at the head of a department of an international agency with two letters in the name. He knows much more about this topic than many others. He has explained to me on many occassions that international aid usually comes with so many strings that around 75% of it will never be claimed or used.

This is partly because application processes are very complex. Illiterate farmers in an unspecified under-developed nation are likely to struggle with the (insert ridiculously high number here) page application form. In all likelyhood, the village leaders will probably struggle as well. So will anyone else that is unused to applying for funds and the application process.

And then there is oversight and reporting.

The standards of audit that we in Europe and the US understand are often radically different to much of Africa or Asia. If the village / city / region / nation manages to be awarded funding, they probably will not have it renewed when they fail an audit or compliance test in 12 months time.

So transparency of funding is important. It seems to be even more important to China who are resisting much by using this umbrella to shield them.

With so many large nations seemingly committing billions, or tens or hundreds of billions of dollars, there seems to be no reason to complain about funding to the extent that there can be no deal today. Sure, it might not be enough money to conduct the work to limit CO2 increases to 2 degrees by 2020, but it is enough to strike a deal here and now and get started.

On the other side, there are many smaller and developing nations that wish to have access to this funding to assist them in building sustainable energy sources and communities. But the smaller nations are working as a block – the G77 – currently being lead by Sudan, to strike better terms.

These terms seem to revolve around transparency and reporting requirements. In his address this morning, Brazilian leader Lula da Silva recognised that large nations have “a right to see how their money is spent”, but he also recognised that “smaller nations must retain their sovereignty”.

Bridging that gap appears to be the way to a deal later today here in Copenhagen.

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