Corruption and climate change are interlinked

by Jose Ugaz, Transparency International | Transparency International
Wednesday, 3 December 2014 21:50 GMT

Deforestation in the village of Carhuaz in the Andean region. Destruction of the Peruvian Amazon has increased 80 percent from the start of the century, the Peruvian government said on Tuesday. Ancash, Peru, November 28, 2014. REUTERS/ Mariana Bazo

Image Caption and Rights Information

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

The solution to corruption is part of the answer to climate change - rule of law and accountability - and that is a global struggle

At the foot of the Andes in Peru, the lands are getting dryer. The Huilca family eke a living out of increasingly arid lands which used to be watered by a glacier that has shrunk by a third in the last 25 years. Until now they have survived by creating a shallow stream from a natural spring four kilometres away. This precious lifeline was made possible by special funds Peru received as part of global efforts to adapt to climate change. 

As world leaders meet in Lima, Peru, for the latest round of climate talks, they should remember the consequences it is already having for my country. The Huilca family are fighting part of a national struggle to protect biodiversity and livelihoods against an increasingly erratic climate. A struggle exacerbated by rampant corruption.   

The Huilcas are able to bring water to their farm and maintain their way of life, because some of the $90 million in climate funds that international donors have given to Peruvian authorities reached an NGO that in turn assisted this family at the foot of the Andes. In many other countries, corruption has choked even the trickling streams of support for the most vulnerable.

The ten most climate-vulnerable countries in the world score no higher than 40 on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index 2014 (100 representing very clean and 1 highly corrupt), which was published on Wednesday.

Pledges by industrialised countries to a global fund that is being developed to channel climate money reached $9.3 billion last week. This money can give some hope to the billions of people threatened by poverty and deprivation by climate change.

The money does not always reach families like the Huilcas. Transparency International’s chapter in Peru, Proética, uncovered one province where a mayor had received $1 million to plant trees, but sent some staff to plant a few saplings, leaving not one acre of land reforested.

For money to reach the people who suffer the worst impacts of climate change, the authorities who distribute the funds must be transparent and accountable, from the rich donor countries to local bodies on the front line.

Today, it is very hard to find out where the money is flowing, and there are few avenues for people when the money doesn’t arrive because of mismanagement or corruption, according to research in six countries that get climate finance.  If a family like the Huilcas don’t get the support they are promised, they cannot be expected to just watch their crops wither and die. They must have somewhere to turn for justice.

At Transparency International, an organisation I was elected to lead in October, we are calling for greater transparency of public money invested in efforts to reduce the impacts of climate change.

Communities must be involved in overseeing the delivery of projects on the ground. They must have avenues to complain if aid doesn’t flow to them, and channels for reporting corruption or fraud.

It is not just corruption, but the impunity that corruption enables that threatens efforts to respond to climate change, as environmentalists trying to protect the rainforests in Peru can attest.

In September four indigenous leaders in the Amazon were murdered while trying to prevent the destruction of their habitats by illegal logging. Half of Peru is covered by Amazonian rainforest threatened with deforestation driven by corruption and impunity for the public officials and companies profiting from illegal timber trade.  As long as they enjoy impunity, Peruvian environmental activists will continue to pay with their lives.

As a prosecutor who pursued grand corruption in Peru, I have experienced first-hand the intimidation tactics used to try to silence people fighting for justice. I also know that justice is essential for a society to function. Yet 85% of Peruvians think their judiciary is corrupt. A system that lets the powerful get away with corruption will struggle to implement the climate goals that will protect the livelihoods of families like the Huilcas.

The solution to corruption is also part of the answer to climate change: rule of law and accountability.  That is a global struggle.

For the delegates of the UN climate conference in Lima, the message is clear: If we want to tackle climate change, we must fight corruption. There can be no climate justice without justice.

Jose Ugaz is chair of Transparency International.