12 December 2008

The climate change blame game

By Navin Singh Khadka, BBC, Thursday, 11 December 2008

Glacier in Nepal

It is feared that petty squabbles are hindering the battle against climate change

A delay in helping Nepal to prepare a crucial plan to adapt to climate change has led to accusations between two international organisations that they are not doing enough to get the job done in many developing countries.

The two agencies pointing their fingers at each other are the United Nations and the Global Environment Facility (GEF).

The GEF is an independent, Washington-based organisation financing the preparation of National Adaptation Programmes of Action (Napa) which prioritises projects to help people adapt to some of the immediate effects of climate change.

Some UN agencies helped developing countries prepare their proposals for Napa.

The GEF alleges that the UN agencies involved have not prepared the documents properly, while the UN argues that the GEF's procedures are too bureaucratic.


Such blame games between independent agencies are quite common in developing countries - and Nepal's experience has been a classic case.

Food aid queue, India (Getty Images)

Some argue that global warming could leave thousands homeless

It took almost two years for the Napa proposal to be approved - the first step in a long process to get funding for adaptation projects.

It started in 2007 when the Nepalese government asked the UN Development Programme (UNDP) to help it prepare a Napa proposal.

"For almost a year we heard nothing from the UNDP," said an official with the environment, science and technology ministry who did not want to be named.

"The GEF secretariat kept on telling us that they had not received the document."

It was only in June that ministry officials found that the document had actually been returned to the UNDP because GEF said the templates of the proposal had "not been filled-in correctly".

"We found that the template was not right. We wrote back to the agency and we told them that we didn't understand why there was a discrepancy, for example between table one and table two," GEF Chief Executive Officer Monique Barbut told the BBC.

Ms Barbut said that her office wrote back to the UNDP to make the necessary corrections.

"But a very simple correction took forever to be brought back into the system so that we could complete the work."

'Too bureaucratic'

UNDP officials attending the UN climate conference in Poland said that the time it took to approve Nepal's Napa proposal was not a waste of money.

Monsoon rain (Image: AP)

Climate models project more erratic rainfall patterns in the future

"Within that time we managed to pool around half a dozen other donors and the project money increased by sixfold to $1.3m," an official said.

Officials with other UN agencies, however, blame GEF procedures for the delay.

"Least Developed Countries and small island states are very frustrated that they have difficulty accessing money from the Least Developed Countries Fund (LDCF)," a UN climate change spokesman, Yvo de Boer, said at a press meeting during the ongoing climate change conference in Poland.

The fund can be accessed only after the Napa is prepared and that can be done only once the programme proposal is approved by the GEF.

UN officials are critical about what they see as unnecessary emphasis on procedure.

"LDCs find the procedures very bureaucratic and the body that manages that fund - the GEF - has been asked to come up with methods to simplify the way in which those countries can get access to the money," said Mr de Boer.

"In fact an independent review of the GEF concluded that the current system for allocating money for developing countries is too bureaucratic and difficult and needs to reformed."

In limbo

That is an argument that does not wash with Monique Barbut of GEF.

"Napa preparation is a very simple type of work and there should not be such delays," she told the BBC.

Corn drying in Nepal

Occasional shortages of food are a constant threat in rural Nepal

"If there is any problem with the proposal for the funds, we get back to the applicants within two weeks. Which other agency works that fast?"

As the claims and counter-claims continue, developing countries are left in limbo - some without plans and many without the funds to cope with climate change.

"With the two sides pointing their finger at each other, the developing countries are indeed in a difficult position," says Saleemul Haq, head of the climate change group at the London-based International Institute for Environment and Development.

"There is an inherent complexity in the system to access the fund which needs to be reformed totally if the developing countries are to adapt to the challenges of climate change."

With Nepal's Napa finally signed with UNDP only last month, there are 38 other programmes of action in developing countries waiting to be funded.

No wonder so many developing countries in the conference here are up against the funding mechanism for adaptation projects.

But the parties at loggerheads in the dispute seem determined to carry on crossing swords - and that does not help developing countries in their fight against climate change.

A banner outside the UN climate conference centre in Poznan reads: "Fight now, right now".

Representatives of the developing world don't know what to make of that.


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