A Matter of Principle(s) - Post-Cancun Update

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A Matter of Principle(s) - Post-Cancun Update

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A Normative Framework for a Global Compact on Public Climate Finance

November 12, 2010
Liane Schalatek

Note: This is a post-Cancun update of the study (first published in November 2010)

Click here to read A Matter of Principle(s) (116 pages, pdf, 1.2MB)


Solving the climate crisis is truly a global challenge that one part of the world cannot do without the other. A global deal to save the climate as a common good for all forms of life needs to provide an agreement securing international financial support for mitigation and adaptation action in the South. Staying far below the 2-degrees-Centigrade global warming target compared to preindustrial levels today seems hardly achievable and would in practice mean a no-carbon development path in the North and low-carbon development in the South. Climate justice in that context requires a fair and equitable sharing of emission reduction targets as well as of financial contributions from public sources.

Cancun did not deliver the fair, ambitious and legally binding agreement that many hoped for, and the world now seems further away from it than ever. Yet initial important steps forward have been taken in the field of international climate finance by putting a global finance pledge into the wider climate discourse and setting in motion the creation of a global Green Climate Fund – despite the prominence of the global financial crisis.

That is no coincidence, since solving the climate crisis increasingly becomes an economic challenge and, thus, debates about choosing the right path and mechanisms focus on questions of quantitative facts and figures. Though this preoccupation with the economics of climate change seems unavoidable, as a political foundation deeply rooted in the ecology and justice movement, we strongly believe that it is not enough.

What is missing in the climate finance debate is a normative framework. While a massive scale-up of private finance is urgently needed, it is the responsibility of states as signatories of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change to assure that human rights, international environmental law and democratic approaches are safeguarded and basic criteria in the mobilization, governance and disbursement of public climate funds are respected. Such a framework is not a burden for a quick allocation and disbursement of public climate finance, as some critiques allege. Instead, we would argue it is necessary to ensure that scarce public money for climate change action is spent in an effective and efficient way that is also equitable.

When we look at the status quo of international public climate finance, the picture looks rather gloomy. While important pledges are on the table – including the US$30 billion fast start finance and $100 billion a year by 2020 confirmed in Cancun – a coherent financial architecture is still missing, governments are window-dressing and inflating their actual commitments and payments, and some of the investments are actually promoting wrong solutions (e.g., nuclear power, large hydro power dams and other large-scale and often harmful technologies).

Climate finance can do better and many best practices around the world exist already. There is no need to invent a new normative framework for climate finance. From human rights to environmental laws – a long list of codified rights and normative principles is available. The problem is that donors tend to lack coherency and implementation of these in their programs. There is a strong need to learn from past mistakes of development aid organizations and other actors and make sure they are not repeated or exacerbated by new public money for climate finance. We consider it to be a matter of principle(s) and hope that this paper helps to steer the debate in that direction. The framework addresses both bilateral and multilateral actors in the field of climate finance and should also serve as a reference framework for the private sector.

We are very grateful to Liane Schalatek, who has put together this paper and thereby helped to contribute to the creation of a coherent framework for global climate finance rooted in equality, justice and human rights, which will hopefully not only serve the Heinrich Böll Foundation’s current and future work on climate finance but inform the work of other groups and organizations internationally.

In the run-up to the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development 2012 (Rio+20), governments have agreed to focus on the topic of “Greening the Economy in the context of Sustainable Development and poverty eradication.” Climate finance is one important cornerstone of that challenge. The Heinrich Böll Foundation is ready to engage with civil society actors and other democratic stakeholders around the world to assure that principles and criteria for what is “green” and what is “sustainable” will be addressed in this context. This paper describes the normative framework for our engagement and, hopefully, inspires others to follow and debate.

Berlin, January 2011
Barbara Unmüßig, Member of the Executive Board of the Heinrich Böll Stiftung
Lili Fuhr, Department Head Ecology and Sustainable Development, Heinrich Böll Stiftung