Q&A: What’s behind the lag in climate-related finance in Central Africa?

by Thomas Hubert | CIFOR (Center for International Forestry Research)
Wednesday, 29 May 2013 14:39 GMT

Public finance management and the environment are new areas for Central African governments. Photo courtesy of Laura/flickr.

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Most Central African countries have been unable to access climate funds—and, according to experts, donors are “skeptical” about the countries’ ability to meet requirements on accounting, internal control and external oversight.

Preliminary findings from a case study report on Cameroon were presented by Kirsten Hegener of the German cooperation agency GIZ in a panel discussion on climate funding for Central Africa, part of an international conference organized by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).

The findings showed that Cameroon is not ready to access climate finance, as climate change is not yet taken into account in the country’s guiding vision and national development strategy. Good financing governance criteria also need to be met by the public finance management system, Hegener added.

However, public finance management and the environment are new areas for Central African governments, said Joseph Amougou, Cameroon Climate focal point for the Ministry of Environment and Protection of Nature — hence the lack of capacity.

“We cannot be expected to have capacity upfront,” he said.

One of the most closely studied funding mechanisms is REDD+ (reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation), a UN-backed proposal for the international community to pay tropical countries to avert forest loss, thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions and mitigating climate change.

But there is not universal agreement on the purpose of REDD+.

“If international donors think REDD is only about climate, they are wrong. It is also about the development of our countries,” Amougou said.

“If REDD is not about the development of Cameroon, it is pointless.”

The international economic crisis—which some participants blamed for the lag in climate funding—may actually offer an opportunity to develop the necessary capacity, suggested World Bank forestry specialist Simon Rietbergen: “This drop in the market may just give us more time to build the institutions that are needed to manage the billions of dollars to be made available under those schemes.”

Emmanuel Mbede, a researcher on environmental communication at Yaoundé 2 University and the discussion moderator, talked to Forests News about funding for climate change responses in the region.

Q: What funding mechanisms for supporting responses to climate change in Central Africa are in place today?

A: Several mechanisms were created following the Kyoto conference and the UN conference on climate change. Some focus on mitigation and others on adaptation. The idea is that developed countries fund projects in the global South. In fact, 95% of funding goes towards mitigation and 5% towards adaptation. The problem is that Central African countries are more directly concerned with adaptation issues.

Most of them have not managed to access that funding so far, even though they are the ones that need it most because they face development problems, which in turn cause environmental degradation.

Also, those mechanisms are too long and too complex. By the time you complete the procedure, funding may no longer be available. These countries do not have the skills that are required to design such projects and monitor their implementation.

As a result, some countries such as Saõ Tome and Principe have become discouraged. They say: “This is too complicated, it is not worth getting involved.”

Q: Are the findings of the GIZ study typical of the criticism addressed by donors to Central African countries?

A: Yes. The administration in this region’s countries is largely inherited from the colonial era. It is heavily centralized and bureaucratic, and was not designed to manage projects. We’re talking about a change of paradigm. For example, Joseph Amougou is Cameroon’s focal point for climate change. But the structure of his ministry means that even though he is the expert, he does not take part in final decisions. Those who decide on the projects are not those who negotiated on them.

Central African countries are also very sensitive on … sovereignty issues. If you tell them that they must adapt, they reply that you’re attacking their sovereignty, which is not true.

Q: As a scholar taking part in a research conference, do you feel there is enough knowledge and science to go beyond such politicized debates to make evidence-based decisions on climate funding?

A: Experts and scientists are on the same page. If you take a World Bank expert, a UN Environment Programme expert, a CIFOR researcher and one from the university, they will all agree.

The problem, especially in African countries, is that political decisions do not take this consensus into account. Researchers are unanimous on environmental challenges and on the mechanisms that could alleviate them, but when they finish the scholarly work, how do we make sure politicians and society as a whole take them on board?

These issues were discussed at the two-day conference Sustainable forest management in Central Africa: Yesterday, today and tomorrow Yaounde, Cameroon. 22-23 May, 2013.

For more stories on the future of Central Africa’s forests, visit blog.cifor.org/yaounde