Paris Agreement and its promise to the poor

Rupa Mukerji, 11 November 2016

On a recent visit to Mali I met farmer Eromi Saanu, working in the hot April sun on his quarter hectare plot of land. He is a pioneer in his village in the practice of zai, a laborious way to grow a crop on dry, infertile soils. Working for over a month with just a hoe, Eromi dug little half-moons, planting a seed encased in manure at one end of each and leaving a little pit at the other to hold some water for the seeds to germinate. This brought him a sorghum crop that is enough to feed his family for 3 months. He is not sure how he will manage thereafter – the year has been too warm, with strong winds that have been blowing away the dry parched soil. The rainfall is unpredictable – some years he faces droughts and in others a flood. In the past he received weather forecasts for the next 90 days from a farmer who was connected to a service provided by Mali Meteo but the farmer died and the system does not work anymore.

Mali-Météo came to the forefront of African weather services through nearly 30 years of Swiss government support for the Agro-Meteorological Advisory Program, which was designed to provide weather information and technical assistance to farmers and pastoralists to improve agricultural and livestock productivity. This program was one of the first to enable Mali-Météo to provide weather services to rural populations.

Paris-Agreement The support from a farmer group has helped Eromi stave off starvation or forced migration. One of the members taught him the zai technique, taking him to visit another group on the border with Burkina Faso. This exchange helped Eromi gain confidence to invest in the backbreaking labour that zai demands.

Farmers in developing countries across the world are facing the challenge of a warmer, less predictable world where cloud bursts and floods follow droughts. They need support to make sense of and deal with the changes.

At the international level, the 4th of November 2016 shall be celebrated as the day the Paris Agreement came into force in an incredibly short period of 11 months since its adoption in Paris last December. Contrast this with its predecessor, the Kyoto protocol that was adopted in 1997 and entered into force only in 2005. This reflects the sense of urgency that permeates society at large for rapid collective actions to address both the causes and impacts of climate change (as also of course concerns about the outcomes of the US elections).

Over the past 30 years the scientific evidence is clear and there is little uncertainty left regarding the reasons for climate change or its devastating impacts. A recent report by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) indicates August 2016 was the warmest on record with land and ocean surface temperatures 0.92 deg C higher than pre-industrial levels. The Paris agreement commits the world to a warming of ‘well below’ 2 deg C. We thus have a very small window of opportunity, of less than a decade, in which to transform our development pathway away fossil fuel driven hyper consumption to a more sustainable one.


What does the Paris Agreement mean for farmer Eromi Saanu?

It means that unlike before his country, Mali is now equally committed to emission reduction as the USA or China. This was the first of the “paradigm shifts” of the Paris Agreement. The agreement is constructed on voluntary commitments, from very unequal partners, rather than a normative framework emerging from historic responsibility for climate change or capability to contribute to its mitigation. The average per capita emission of Mali is 0.1 tonne, most of it from fertilizer use (75%) and from livestock, while in the USA its 16.4 tonnes from a range of lifestyle choices that we in the developed world are familiar with.

Eromi has no water or electricity and does not expect any state support for these. He has invested in a little Chinese solar panel that provides enough energy to light up his one room home. He does not use the small amount of kerosene that he did in the past, for lighting. In the new post Paris architecture, each country must bring its own nationally determined contribution to emission reduction to the table. A recent CSO report, Setting the Path towards 1.5 deg C: A civil society equity review of pre-2020 ambitions, Nov 2016, supported by Helvetas, shows that developing countries have committed well beyond their fair share as assessed on principles of equity and capacity. Mali has few options for mitigation as its carbon footprint is minuscule. It however needs support for the incremental costs of investing in clean development and in supporting its citizens to adapt to the impacts of climate change.


So can Eromi and Mali expect something back from the Paris Agreement?

While the Paris Agreement talks of equity in several instances, the second “paradigm shifts” is that it makes no reference to climate justice or compensation. Sub-Saharan Africa is among the poorest and most fragile regions of the world, at a significant risk from climate change. There is a commitment to allocated $100 bn to climate change actions starting from 2020. The OECD estimates that the transfers from the developed world to the developing for climate actions in 2014 totalled $ 62 bn. This includes transfers from a range of instruments such as export credits, concessional loans and ODA. In its inclusive embrace of various instruments, this form of accounting risks to lose relevance as a transparent and reliable exercise. Notwithstanding this, of the total transfers, the bulk has been for mitigation of climate change and only 16% is aimed at adaptation – access to weather information, protective irrigation, alternate crops and livelihood options – the kind of support that Eromi needs.

Does the money for adaptation reach Eromi, what are the pathways through which such funds could trickle down to him? A complex matrix of institutions have evolved over the past decades to generate and channel climate funds. The Adaptation Fund and the more recent Green Climate Fund are the most potential ones as they are aimed to assist countries like Mali adapt to the impacts of climate change (Adaptation Fund) and adopt a more climate resilient development pathway (Green Climate Fund). Both these funds rely on the presence of either an accredited national implementing entity or an international one that can channel resources to the country. Many of the countries that are most vulnerable to climate change are also fragile states with weak institutions that lack capacities to fulfill the stringent financial management needs required for accreditation. Except Senegal and South Africa no other African country has an accredited national entity. They rely on multilateral banks and agencies to access these climate funds. None of these agencies have managed to reach Eromi yet.

The Adaptation Fund is near collapse as it was to be financed by 2% of the revenue from the Clean Development Mechanism’s carbon market. With the collapse of the carbon prices, its funding stream has dried up and it now relies on the same ODA funds that are meant to reduce poverty. When climate funds compete with development cooperation, they take away the last straw of support from very poor communities like Eromi’s. Activities like the support to zai or the functioning of the farmer groups are supported by these scare ODA resources. The commitment to generate funds for climate which are additional to ODA have been belied, now there are proposals that the Adaptation Fund raises funds from the public, competing with humanitarian aid or smaller NGOs that rely on such public giving.

A recent evaluation of the Adaptation Fund highlights that the targeting of resources from the Fund to the vulnerable regions and populations has been poor. The Fund, hosted by the World Bank, has limited staff capacities, lacks knowledge management systems and relies on a large body of consultants on short term contracts who have little chance of reaching out to Eromi.

Can such funds build national capacities to bring some benefits, like weather information, to Eromi Saanu or his children? The Paris Agreement makes a strong commitment to capacity building in its Article 11 and 13. The experience till date has been mixed – national level institutional capacity building has been focused on scientific collaboration or capacity building of negotiators. The reason for this is the long held view that climate change is a topic of scientific enquiry which needs to be addressed through building up relevant research capacities in national universities and specialised scientific institution. This situation of seeing the problem as that of science, rather than a core development challenge, has lasted over a decade. The long drawn out and acrimonious nature of climate negotiations also demanded that negotiators from developing countries are equipped with information that they needed to effectively fulfill their functions.

With the ratification of the Paris agreement the focus needs to shift to building implementation capacities in the countries most at risk from climate change. Countries like Mali have seen several generations of climate change projects that have been research focussed, led by teams of consultants flown in, leaving behind little national capacities or impact, other than a useful body of literature. To reach Eromi Saanu, national actors in multiple department needs to be mobilised and their actions coordinated. The fact that the nodal ministry for climate change is the ministry of environment which traditionally has had a regulatory function, with no structures below the small national ministries, has been a key impediment to actions reaching the ground.

Capacity building is needed on two fronts – to build a national repository of all the information on climate data, modelling and studies in the country and to build a cadre of technical staff able to design and deliver actions that are informed by Eromi’s needs and concerns. They also need to revive and update systems like the meteorological services provided by Mali Mateo, and many other such development actions that contribute to adaptation.


Is it possible that climate finance will ever reach farmers like Eromi?

A modality called Direct Access pioneered by the Adaptation Fund and also adopted by the Green Climate Fund provides reasons for hope. It enables national entities to access funds and disburse them for small actions, based on national priorities and needs. Such mechanisms can only work with robust and transparent risk assessment and a strong governance mechanism that ensures targeting to the most vulnerable. These mechanisms can be built using the accumulated experience of development cooperation for poverty targeting and decentralised resource allocation. Lessons from watershed management, joint and community forest management, various direct transfer and employment guarantee schemes need to be capitalised upon.

Access to climate funds demands a level of national preparedness. The new global funds are under great pressure to start disbursement. The Adaptation fund disbursed resources to countries that were most prepared and capacitated to receive them and by the time the poorest nations understood what was needed of them, it ran out of resources. The Green Climate Fund is similarly under pressure to show results and its Board has approved every proposal placed before it. One can only hope that Mali is able to use the readiness grant of the Fund, identify and capacitate a national implementing entity or win the trust of an international one to bring some climate finance to its citizens like Eromi.

And what about Eromi’s wife and family? Understanding the gendered impacts of climate change and the struggle to design gender sensitive responses is a long one, and a topic for another blog someday soon.


Join us at our side event during COP22 in Marrakech!

Scaling up water and agriculture climate sensitive investments in mountain regions.

Tuesday, 15 November 15:00-16:30
Location: Green Zone, Room Sousse

See full details and list of participants

Rupa Mukerji

Rupa Mukerji

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