Can Green Climate Fund help the poor?

So what comes into your mind when you think about climate change adaptation?
For most people, I would guess, we think about the poorest people who are threatened by sea level rise, flood and drought.
But can a global facility like the Green Climate Fund truly reach those people?

I doubt it. In fact, my doubt is growing as I spend more and more time in Durban these days, which I didn’t even expect, to be honest.

My first shock on this issue came when I sat in a side event called “who’s financing climate change?”, where I first heard that only about 10% of the World Bank money can actually reach the poorest people. 10%, can you believe it? I didn’t even believe it in the beginning, until I asked a follow-up question on whether there is any measure to address criminality associated with international organizations, and the speaker, who actually worked in world bank before, said she didn’t know about it. No wonder the 10% data!!!

So I walked around to talk with more people about it. My point is that international aid finance, like the world bank, usually cannot reach the poor. I want to hear what other experienced environmental professionals here in COP-17 think about it.

One woman who works in UN agreed with me, and encourage young people to speak up about it. (here comes my blog on FES.) That’s confirmation number 1. Another woman (happens to be woman again), who has worked in Africa for ten years on agriculture, told me that those small farmers are most difficult to reach large international organizations, such as the world bank, which means that the local governments would often function as the “middle-layer”, and in many cases, that layer not only takes away a good share of the funding itself, but also switches the major part of that money to large agriculture plantations, leaving the poorest only a small share. Confirmation number 2. An recent FES grad, who is currently working in another major fund, further agrees with my point and said we need to change this. Confirmation number 3, and the confirmations continued, as I asked more questions either openly in a side event or on a face-to-face conversation.

What’s wrong with our philanthropy? Certainly those local governments should be blamed for corruption, but what about NGOs? Do we, as environmental professionals, have other choices? Can we be trusted?

Environmental professionals seem to agree that those aid projects where small farmers can be reached, are often successful models, which totally makes a lot of sense. The ideal aid process should be very simple indeed: ask what the poor people need and help them where appropriate. But that simple simple logic, once overshadowed by multiple middle-layers, becomes extremely complex.

I have to be fair that not all international NGOs work the same way like world bank. Oxfam, an Oxford-based NGO working on food security issues, told me today that they work with local NGOs to deliver their financial assistance and technical expertise. Immediately, that feels right.

There’s definitely much to learn from the past, but given the nature of Green Climate Fund, a huge international finance facility among governments, the poor and vulnerable people can only access the money through layers and layers of governments and organizations, which create the diverse habitats for different types of corruption. Without substantial public participation, I don’t think the bulk part of Green Climate Fund would reach the poorest and most vulnerable people who need it the most.

The best time to reduce such corruption, I believe, is now. Negotiators not only need to decide where the money come from, but perhaps more importantly, how the money is going to be delivered. The urgent need of poor people should be well honored in our discussion here in COP-17 and should be taken as an unconpromisible granting criteria in Green Climate Fund. Moreover, we probably need a new path besides the old ones to reach the poor, because after all, the logic is very straight-forward: give the poor what they need where appropriate.