Money issues bedevil climate talks

Money is a major sticking point in international talks about addressing climate change. But South Africa’s head of delegation, Minister of Tourism Derek Hanekom, said the finance committee at the talks in Katowice, Poland, was getting close to delivering a deal, and rich countries have committed billions of dollars to assist poor, vulnerable countries.

“But the devil lies in the doing,” Hanekom said at the United Nations climate change conference. “Commitments will be made; I’m quite confident of that. But what happens beyond is that the commitments need to be honoured.”

Poor countries need financing so that they can become green economies and to adhere to their promises to lower their carbon emissions. Vulnerable nations will also need the money to adapt to a changing climate, including sea level rise and more extreme storms.

The bickering over money was threatening to derail the 2015 Paris Agreement, scheduled to come into effect in 2020. Developed countries promised to deliver $100-billion for climate mitigation by 2020, but there were serious concerns that the promises made in 2015 have not been honoured.

Developing countries say they cannot start planning their transformation into green economies until they know how much money they will receive from rich countries.


Industrialised countries argue that they can’t promise a figure at this stage.

Hanekom said finance was particularly important in achieving a positive outcome at this year’s talks.

“The question is what determines the amount of finance that is needed. It is not an arbitrary figure. There should be a clear indication of what needs to be done, what will be done.”

He said nobody had said that they would renege on the $100-billion promised, but establishing that it would be paid was critical.

“On the contrary, I think there is a general acceptance that amount of money, given the enormity of the challenge, will not be adequate.”

The conference this week had to establish rules on how to implement the historic Paris Agreement, but a fight over finance held up the talks for most of the two weeks.

Hanekom is heading the South African delegation after the death of the environment minister, Edna Molewa, in September. Although Nomvula Mokonyane was appointed as her successor last month, it was deemed Hanekom could best handle the technical negotiations.

Speaking at the conference, he said, for South Africa, finance and adaptation for climate change were the overarching priorities and drawing up a rulebook was important.

The Paris Agreement cannot come into effect in 2020 without a rulebook, which includes a clear mandate on finance. Currently the negotiators, from 195 governments, are not finding common ground.

Hanekom said China, India, Brazil and South Africa were in agreement that, for finance, there was “a bit of a concern” and “financial commitments, as agreed to in Paris, have not been met”.

The South African delegation has been pushing for a deal on finance. South Africa has been firm that it can’t meet its promises made in Paris in 2015 to decarbonise its economy if it doesn’t receive financial aid.

South Africa’s lead climate negotiator, Maesela Kekana, said at the end of last week’s negotiations that the African group was not happy.

“As an African group, we simply could not accept the positions that were being put forward [by developed countries],” he said.

Harjeet Singh, global lead on climate change for international nonprofit ActionAid, also emphasised that clear rules on financing were critical for the agreement to succeed.

Transparency was the other issue giving negotiators sleepless nights, and developed countries urged developing countries to report all their green actions.

Hanekom, who co-chaired the transparency dialogue at the conference, argued that poor countries should not be held to the same standards of reporting as rich countries, because they had limited resources and capacity.

“South African has the capacity and we are already adhering to transparent reporting, but many poorer countries lack that,” he said.

Hanekom said a formula that balanced the responsibilities of all countries, both in financing and transparency, was crucial.

“This will allow us to have a regime that is fair and effective for all. To achieve this, and to build the trust that everyone is doing their fair share, we need to have a strong transparency framework to monitor and assess progress on all fronts.”

Many delegates said the United States, with the backing of climate-change denier President Donald Trump, was sowing division among the parties, especially in contentious areas. The US was fingered as one of the countries holding up progress on finance.

“The worst outcome of the talks here would be no outcome,” Hanekom said. “I don’t believe that any country came here looking for no outcome.”

UN secretary general Antonio Guterres called Katowice the most important Conference of the Parties since the adoption of the Paris Agreement.

“There can be no doubt that it is a moment of truth. The Katowice package needs to deliver on the progress on finance needed to adapt and mitigate climate change as well as the way the Paris Agreement, which will kick in in 2020, will be implemented.

“Developed countries had to scale up their contributions to jointly raise $100-billion annually by 2020,” he said.

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Yolandi Groenewald
Yolandi Groenewald
Yolandi Groenewald is a South African environmental reporter, particularly experienced in the investigative field. After 10 years at the Mail & Guardian, she signed on with City Press in 2011. Her investigative environmental features have been recognised with numerous national journalism awards. Her coverage revolves around climate change politics, land reform, polluting mines, and environmental health. The world’s journey to find a deal to address climate change has shaped her career to a great degree. Yolandi attended her first climate change conference in Montreal in 2005. In the last decade, she has been present at seven of the COP’s, including the all-important COP15 in Copenhagen in 2009. South Africa’s own addiction to coal in the midst of these talks has featured prominently in her reports.

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