A group of climate science experts have recommended measures to manage billions of dollars earmarked to help poor countries fight climate change, and avoid problems common among aid programs.
File photo of the ice cap on Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.
Pledges of aid for climate change are as significant as the Marshall Plan to fix Europe's economy after World War II, said Simon Donner in a paper published the journal Science, but warned "if it's not managed well we could waste a lot of money and a lot of people could not get the aid they need."
Three main recommendations, said Donner and his two co-authors, include ongoing, independent assessments to ensure climate change aid is new, and donors are not merely shifting resources from other, existing, aid programs.
They also urged the appointment of independent auditors from outside agencies to oversee spending and monitor waste, and the use of scientific methods to choose projects, such as the kind of evidence-based tests to measure effectiveness in the public health field.
In Cancun last year world leaders pledged $100 billion annually, starting in 2020, to help developing countries adapt to climate change and mitigate the damage. Another $30 billion in "fast-track" funding was promised by 2012.
If such massive aid is wasted or ineffective, donors will sour just as the global climate grows more dangerous for those who can least manage it, said Donner.
The researchers, including Milind Kandlikar and Hisham Zerriffi, all at the University of British Columbia, decided to raise the issue after realizing early this year there were few checks and balances on the climate change funds, Donner said.
He added they hoped such checks will be raised at the global climate meetings among world leaders in Durban, South Africa late this month.
The researchers cited past disasters that were overwhelmed with donations, following which money was spent on publicity stunts aimed at showing the international audience that the agencies involved were "taking action".
"The international aid system is fraught with problems, and by adding another $100 million a year to it, basically doubling it, we could end up worsening a lot of problems," said Donner.
The policy paper cited a Kenyan example of how using science-based assessments can save aid money. Researchers showed that giving people free malaria bednets was far more effective and cheaper than using expensive, more involved, methods to tackle the disease.
Donner said a parallel with the climate change aid might be using an evidence-based study to decide whether to hire engineers and contractors to build high-tech barriers, or hire local workers to plant mangroves along shore lines.
"There is a long history of shifting aid money or relabeling aid projects in response to new aid priorities," the Science paper warned, and called for annual independent assessments to "close loopholes that permit project relabeling or climate funding coming at the expense of other development aid".
As Durban approaches, global financial problems already threaten to disrupt plans for climate change aid.
In London, consultants Ernst & Young have warned of a looming funding gap as high as $45 billion in the aid plan if the Eurozone's financial and economic crisis worsens.
"Governments can no longer afford previous levels of investment under current austerity measures," an Ernst & Young news release noted.
But in a warning for the need for countries to adapt to climate change and mitigate damage, Ernst & Young also said just 18 per cent of business executives it surveyed thought the upcoming Durban talks would lead to a new climate change deal.
Speaking this week from Thailand, which is battling the worst flooding in 50 years, United Nations Secretary-General Ban ki-Moon reminded states of their climate change aid promise, and urged them to adopt "clear guidelines and deliver what had been pledged".
"Mobilizing $100 billion may be a big challenge, but it is doable. If there is a political will, even during this economic crisis time, I believe we can do it," said Ban, in speaking notes released by the UN.