Developing Countries Demand Database in Durban



When the United States, the EU, and Australia all disagree with a chorus of small developing countries in the negotiation rooms, it looks a bit like schoolyard bullying.

But that’s exactly what happened this week in Durban during informal consultations on National Adaptation Plans (NAPs), as Parties argued over the option of establishing a database to record funding and support for the NAPs process. And beneath the display of power dynamics lurked an all-important debate on what transparent climate action actually looks like.

The NAPs process, which was established under the Cancun Agreements last year, offers a straightforward way for least developed countries (LDCs) to create and carry out their adaptation planning. NAPs follow up on the National Adaptation Programmes of Action (NAPAs) created under the Convention in the early 2000s to address the most urgent adaptation needs in LDCs.  NAPAs are under-funded and thus far less effective than desired. The new NAP process promises to build upon NAPAs to address medium and long-term adaptation needs.  Actions taken under NAPs would be distinct from other adaptive actions, while remaining complementary to them.

During the informal meetings here in Durban, developing countries expressed their desire that anyone with money (and not just the official LDC Fund) be encouraged to contribute to implementing NAPs. Clearly, they are a bit worried and frustrated by the failure of NAPA funding. That’s chiefly because, despite the fact that LDCs are highly vulnerable to climate change (a problem they have not caused) and represent twelve percent of the global population, wealthy nations have contributed less than two percent of their fast-start funds to the LDC Fund.

The major point of contention between parties in drafting the NAPs text was whether or not the UNFCCC secretariat should manage a comprehensive database of funded actions. Several developing countries expressed urgency in the need to accurately monitor financial support provided for their adaptation initiatives under NAPs.

In one of the more passionate pleas, Algeria argued that the proposed database would ensure “transparency, efficiency, and accountability” in climate finance—surely a reasonable set of characteristics to strive for.

Yet the United States was quick to oppose the idea and tried to brush the option aside, claiming that such a database was unnecessary and that the limited resources of the secretariat would be better employed in support of “urgent actions.”

The EU followed suit, positing that databases of adaptation funding already exist in several places, decrying the proposed option as a costly redundancy. (The database is estimated to cost USD$200,000 to set up and USD$40,000 annually to maintain.)

Finally, Australia chimed in, noting the multiple different avenues through which developed countries report their funding: the OECD-DAC, Rio Markers, National Communications, Fast Start Finance Updates

Point taken, to be sure.

But the picture is not so clear as Australia would like to make it seem. As one LDC delegate put it, this vital information now only exists in “bits and pieces”, and if the NAP process is to be its own distinct animal—and rectify the failures of past action on adaptation—it should be monitored and administered as such.

Not to mention the fact that climate financing has long been less than transparent. The multiple reporting avenues are inconsistent and can obscure actual funding measurement. Developed countries are known to not even provide sufficient information when it is specifically requested. Last year’s COP in Cancun took significant steps to address these problems, as the various reporting avenues referenced by Australia exist to attest.

Still, according to a recent International Institute for the Environment and Development (IIED) briefing co-authored by David Ciplet et al., climate finance transparency remains quite weak.

The authors evaluated donor countries’ May reports against 25 different criteria, including the level of detail in reports, definitions of ‘new and additional’ funding, and accessibility of data.

Norway and Japan ‘led’ in climate transparency with respective scores of 52% and 50%.

The United States, the European Union, and Australia, the countries opposing the NAPs database, scored 32%, 48%, and 34% respectively.

Ciplet et al. underscore the need for transparency in financing to ensure “coordination, accountability, and learning” for both contributors and recipients. Greater transparency in financing would ensure that the funding provided is following the guidelines of the convention, and is appropriately addressing the needs of recipient countries.

But would a NAPs funding database administered by the secretariat really solve the eternal problem of transparency? Further, would it alone force a marked increase in donor countries’ adherence to their funding promises?

Almost certainly not. (These are global politics, after all.)

What it would do, though, is provide a tremendously useful instrument for donors, recipients, and outside observers (such as ourselves) to effectively evaluate action on the NAPs themselves. It would help inform the ‘iterative process’ that has become the new operating paradigm for adaptation planning. Perhaps most of all, it would serve as a constant reminder that accountability, openness, and a steady flow of information can help keep us honest, on our toes, and ever watchful.

And if the NAPs are really going to make up for past failures and carry developing country adaptation into the future, we need to start paying a hell of a lot more attention.


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