Lack of Climate Change Finance Threatening Pacific Development – Genevieve Neilson

As storms become more frequent and intense, sea levels rise, and coral reefs are destroyed, Pacific Islanders must adapt to a changing climate or move their lives elsewhere. Pacific Islands Countries (PICs) are at the forefront of climate change impacts and in the vanguard at international climate change negotiations. Yet, they still require improved access to financing to adapt to the threats of climate change. A central problem is that the climate finance architecture is in its infancy. And, it is changing; the Green Climate Fund started its work this year, and it is unclear whether it will replace or complement existing funds. It is therefore important for PICs and international actors to learn best practices from states like Samoa, who are succeeding in accessing funding from each global climate finance mechanism.

There are four primary climate finance mechanisms: Climate Investment Funds, Global Environment Facility (GEF), Adaptation Fund and Green Climate Fund (GCF). These funds can be donor-driven, slow to disperse and burdensome for small states. The GCF began operations this summer. The Adaptation Fund is a product of the Kyoto Protocol. It supports small projects up to $10 million. The Climate Investment Funds are within the World Bank. It concentrates on large-scale projects. As a group, PICs were the least successful in accessing GEF financing in its first 15 years. This ultimately led to the creation of the GEF-Pacific Alliance for Sustainability.

Pacific Island leaders continue to fight for acknowledgement. At the 2014 SIDS conference, Samoan President Tuilaepa Aiono Sailele Malielegaoi argued that “There is hope,” but, “for our islands to realize this hope we need solutions to our challenges and the means to implement them.”

In the lead up to the 2015 Paris climate negotiations, leaders agree that $100 billion per year by 2020 is necessary for developing countries to tackle the impacts of climate change. But, the way in which available funds are allocated and used must also be informed by conditions within PICs.

Like other PICs, Samoa relies on tourism and infrastructure to drive its economy. For example, Samoa’s 1.9% economic growth rate in 2015 was in large part the result of preparations for the United Nations Small Island Developing States Conference, recovery from Cyclone Evan, and tourism. This demonstrates the importance of external finance such as grants, development assistance, and loans in order for Samoa to adapt to climate change and achieve its Millennium Development Goals.

There are several policy areas to focus on in order to improve access to climate finance. Notably, the ability to secure and use external climate finance is linked to the strength of a country’s institutions and commitment to good governance. Specific circumstances must shape PIC’s approaches to climate change financing. For instance, Samoa’s shift to renewable energy in the 2000s was a reaction to local natural disasters, but it was also a response to international concerns such as the global financial crisis. Importantly, it took advantage of mitigation programs and resources targeted at reducing reliance on imported fuels.

In addition, fiduciary standards and a strong finance ministry are important for access to and management of funds. On a national scale, Samoa’s work toward a Climate Change Trust Fund sends a strong message to potential funders that it has a sound and accountable Ministry of Finance.

Based on Samoa’s experiences, international mechanisms including the Green Climate Fund should consider several constraints faced by PICs. Even where climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction policies are implemented, PICs will require swift access to finance to recover from extreme weather events. Storms will wreak havoc on those most vulnerable, and disaster insurance may support their needs. In addition, more consideration should be given to community knowledge-sharing and community-based adaptation programs that help to overcome issues from projects imposed by external actors.

Remoteness from their neighbors, inability to achieve economies of scale, and lack of human capital once helped to marginalize the geopolitical importance of the Pacific. While tensions remain between developed and developing countries regarding commitments to climate change finance, PICs continue to showcase their local knowledge and policy determination to counter threats from climate change.

Genevieve Neilson recently completed her M.A. in International Affairs from The Elliott School of International Affairs at The George Washington University. She also holds a Graduate Certificate from the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University and a B.A. (Honors) in International Relations and Political Science from Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand. Her research interests include foreign policy and trade in the Asia-Pacific region, public diplomacy, and the Chinese language.

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Image Credit: aciar1 via Flickr CC

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