Deconstructing climate finance

Developed countries are nowhere close to meeting their targets

Updated - October 14, 2021 01:32 am IST

Published - October 14, 2021 12:15 am IST

Climate change is a grave and mounting threat to our wellbeing and a healthy planet

Climate change is a grave and mounting threat to our wellbeing and a healthy planet

In the run-up to the 26th Conference of the Parties of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) , media reports have claimed that developed countries are inching closer to the target of providing $100 billion annually in climate finance to developing countries by 2025 (the original target was 2020). This view has been bolstered by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), which claimed that climate finance provided by developed countries had reached $78.9 billion in 2018.

Flawed claims

These claims are erroneous. First, the OECD figure includes private finance and export credits. Developing countries have insisted that developed country climate finance should be from public sources and should be provided as grants or as concessional loans. However, the OECD report makes it clear that the public finance component amounted to only $62.2 billion in 2018, with bilateral funding of about $32.7 billion and $29.2 billion through multilateral institutions. Significantly, the final figure comes by adding loans and grants. Of the public finance component, loans comprise 74%, while grants make up only 20%. The report does not say how much of the total loan component of $46.3 billion is concessional. From 2016 to 2018, 20% of bilateral loans, 76% of loans provided by multilateral development banks and 46% of loans provided by multilateral climate funds were non-concessional. Between 2013 and 2018, the share of loans has continued to rise, while the share of grants decreased. The overwhelming provisioning of climate finance through loans risks exacerbates the debt crisis of many low-income countries.


The OECD reports on climate finance have long been criticised for inflating climate finance figures by including funds for development projects such as health and education that only notionally target climate action. The Oxfam report on climate finance discounts for the climate relevance of reported funds to estimate how much climate finance is actually targeting climate action and also discounts for grant equivalence. In contrast to the OECD report, Oxfam estimates that in 2017-18, out of an average of $59.5 billion of public climate finance reported by developed countries, the climate-specific net assistance ranged only between $19 and $22.5 billion per year.

The hollowness of the OECD claims is also exposed by the accounts provided by the developed countries themselves in their Biennial Reports submitted to the UNFCCC. The 2018 Biennial Assessment of UNFCCC’s Standing Committee on Finance reports that on average, developed countries provided only $26 billion per year as climate-specific finance between 2011-2016 even if these numbers are still open to challenge. This rose to an average of $36.2 billion in 2017-18.

Broken promises

U.S. President Joe Biden recently said that the U.S. will double its climate finance by $11.4 billion annually by 2024. But any claim that such a pledge will make the U.S. a “leader in international climate finance” is misleading. It is Congress that will decide on the quantum after all. The U.S. also has a history of broken commitments, having promised $3 billion to the Green Climate Fund (GCF) under President Barack Obama, but delivering only $1 billion before President Donald Trump withdrew U.S. support from the GCF. Mr. Biden initially promised only $1.2 billion to the GCF, which fell well short of what was already owed.


In any case, the future focus of U.S. climate finance is the mobilisation of private sector investment, as John Kerry, Special Presidential Envoy for Climate Change, made it clear during his recent visit to India. Alongside claims that a few trillion dollars of private investment were being mobilised, he was clear that public finance would only contribute to “de-risking” of investment. At the end of the day, the bulk of the money coming in would be through private funds, directed to those projects judged “bankable” and not selected based on developing countries’ priorities and needs. Regrettably, behind the rhetoric of mobilising climate finance lies the grim reality of burdening the G77 and its peoples with a fresh load of “green” debt.

Climate finance has also remained skewed towards mitigation, despite the repeated calls for maintaining a balance between adaptation and mitigation. The 2016 Adaptation Gap Report of the UN Environment Programme had noted that the annual costs of adaptation in developing countries could range from $140 to $300 billion annually by 2030 and rise to $500 billion by 2050. Currently available adaptation finance is significantly lower than the needs expressed in the Nationally Determined Contributions submitted by developing countries.

Delivering on climate finance is fundamental to trust in the multilateral process. Regrettably, while developing countries will continue to pressure developed countries to live up to their promises, the history of climate negotiations is not in their favour.

T. Jayaraman is Senior Fellow, Climate Change, M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF) and Sreeja Jaiswal is a senior scientist with MSSRF

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