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Funding safe climate futures for all

In less than a month the major United Nations climate change conference of 2010 will commence in Cancun, Mexico. Many eyes will be on the negotiations as governments from around the world try to find common ground on key issues to keep the negotiations moving forward. Progress around a Global Climate Fund, to support poor communities in developing countries, stands to be one of the major successes or failures of Cancun.

As the dust settled after Copenhagen it became apparent that amongst all the gloom there had been some progress. One of the key outcomes was an agreement to provide funding to support poor communities in developing countries to both adapt to climate change and to reduce their emissions. Many of these communities are already suffering under the impacts of human induced climate change. Leaders from wealthy developed countries pledged to provide $USD100bn per year from 2020. This is around a ten-fold increase in the scale of funds that are currently beginning to move for the same purpose. Despite this pledge, there remain many unresolved question marks around the structure and operation of this fund.

It is absolutely essential to get the global climate fund right. To date, there has been a range of failures by similar funds. A recent report by Oxfam showed that those who are most in need of support are those who are losing out. For example, in one of the largest funds, the Global Environment Facility, the world’s poorest 49 countries have received less that one eighth of the climate funding. In addition, of all the public funds committed to climate change, less than 8% has been spent on helping the poor adapt to the impacts. An effective Global Climate Fund can help rectify these glaring imbalances and ensure that the most vulnerable people receive the assistance they need.

Existing climate funds are not a sound basis for the scaling up of climate finance. The design of a new fund must be guided by a range of important principles. For example, a new fund needs to be perceived as legitimate by recipient countries. This can be achieved by a governance structure that enables all countries to have a say. To date, many aid institutions, like the World Bank, are predominantly managed by rich countries. In addition, they often do not have transparent processes that enable civil society to scrutinise and provide crucial accountability. A new global climate fund needs to have fair and equitable governance. It needs to be transparent. And it needs to give communities, who are affected by climate change, decision-making power.

Achieving these principles in the creation of a new global climate fund is not going to be easy. There is not yet consensus amongst countries and there are ongoing tensions between major players, such as China and the US. Australia maintains an ambivalent position. But the national battle lines that have been drawn around this issue completely miss the point.

The beneficiaries of an effective climate fund need to be the most vulnerable people in the most vulnerable countries. These are the people who are already being impacted by climate change and stand to lose the most in the future. It is the poor who live in vulnerable coastal deltas. It is the poor who rely on rain rather than irrigation for their crops. And it is the poor who don’t have insurance, or savings to fall back on in times of disaster.

There is no debate around these facts. Australia knows it. The U.S. knows it. China knows it. Every nation heading to Cancun knows that the poor are most vulnerable to climate change and it is the poor who need any agreement on climate change to support them.

Cancun is an opportunity to build trust in the climate negotiations. It is an opportunity to make key decisions that contribute towards the building blocks for a fair, ambitious and binding international climate treaty. The establishment of a legitimate, well-funded and effective Global Climate Fund is an important opportunity that should not be missed. It is critical for progress at the UN climate negotiations in Cancun. And, it is critical for the world’s poor and vulnerable, those who stand to lose the most as a result of climate change.

Phil Ireland is blogging about the international climate negotiations as part of Oxfam Australia’s UN Climate Tracker project.

This article was originally published on ABC’s The Drum