World Resource Institute

Climate Accountability: a Two-Way Street

By Brian Lund and Rebecca Pearl-Martinez, Oxfam America

Question Nine: How can civil society best support, and hold accountable, national-level governments in their efforts to integrate climate change risks into planning and policy-making processes?

The authors argue that, while it is readily recognized that CSOs have a role to play in assisting in the aftermath of extreme weather events, the greater contribution of CSOs is like to be in addressing longer-term climatic risks. This presents a challenge for decision makers since, for CSOs to be a true partner in climate change adaptation, they must have an active participation in a process of mutual development and action, alongside their State’s representatives, development partner representatives and the communities they serve. The paper goes on to describes research by Oxfam in seven countries, including Cambodia, to better understand the role of civil society, governments, and donors in the national governance of climate change finance in developing countries, and particularly how to ensure that climate-related funds reach those who need it most.

The Cancun Adaptation Framework that emerged from the 2010 negotiations of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change invites relevant multilateral, international, regional and national organizations, the public and private sectors, civil society and other relevant stakeholders to undertake and support enhanced action on adaptation at all levels.

What are the implications for this "invitation," and what is the role that civil society should play? There is an urgency to respond to climate change now, but much of the insight and solutions that currently elude us will emerge from those communities most affected by climate change. It is the poorest and most climate-vulnerable populations, especially smallholder farmers and women, who stand to lose the most while offering the most innovative solutions.

The role of civil society organizations (CSOs) is constantly evolving. While CSOs are by no means homogenous in terms of size, reach, or mandate, much of the history of CSOs has been about stepping into the breach in emergency responses, supplementing essential services, or providing critiques and leading advocacy efforts in attempts to hold duty-bearers accountable. Increasingly, CSOs are stepping up alongside those same State, multi-lateral and bi-lateral development agencies as duty-bearers and engaging them as partners on shared development agendas. In these partnerships, CSOs ideally provide a stronger connection to and perspective about realities on the ground, and can facilitate opportunities for citizens to have a voice in the workings of their State and in decision-making processes at higher levels. At the same time, CSOs often are the best poised to speak out when accountable and transparent governance is at risk.

Perhaps one of the most obvious examples of how CSOs can assist is when they support States to act in times of disaster arising from extreme weather events. As recent as 2010, Cyclone Ketsana brought destruction across an unprecedented four South East Asian countries—the Philippines, Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia—with a strength that did not abate before causing 360 deaths and financial damage of over USD $600 Million. In each country CSOs were quick to respond, by coordinating with the disaster management authorities, reaching the affected communities, getting information through to decision makers and back to communities, distributing relief, rallying resources from around the world, and providing support throughout the recovery process. At the same time, in providing this support CSOs are also increasingly holding themselves and others accountable to international standards, such as Sphere's Humanitarian Charter and Minimum Standards in Disaster Response and the Humanitarian Accountability Partnership. CSOs are well placed to respond to secondary effects such as inappropriate recovery strategies that may be unsupportive of women, or vulnerability to trafficking amongst families left without livelihoods. And finally, CSOs deliver on the disaster risk reduction and adaptation strategies that must grow in order to avoid or decrease whatever threats loom in future climatic risks.

Whilst it is readily recognized that CSOs will need support in order to build the capacity needed to move quickly to assist States with the fallout of these extreme weather events, the greater contribution of CSOs is like to be in addressing longer-term climatic risks. And therein lies the challenge for decision makers; it is not enough to have benevolent development partners hand over relief funds or grants to CSOs in the aftermath of an extreme weather event. For CSOs to be a true partner in climate change adaptation, they must have an active participation in a process of mutual development and action, as partners alongside their State’s representatives, development partner representatives and the communities they serve.

One of the most overlooked tasks in avoiding climate change risks is improved awareness: awareness amongst communities of the risks and solutions that are before them, and awareness amongst decision makers of the perceptions and responses of these same communities. By virtue of their reach and expertise, CSOs can serve as a conduit, building awareness in both directions and gathering basic information in a statistically robust manner. In Cambodia, Oxfam is working with the Ministry of Environment Climate Change Department, BBC World Service Trust, SIDA, DANIDA and UNDP to conduct the country’s first Knowledge, Attitudes and Practices Survey on climate change across all of Cambodia's demographics, which will serve policymakers and planners. On a regional scale, across Southeast Asia, PACT is leading the CSO community in initiating a Community of Practice for Climate Change Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning.

Governments and development partners often look to CSOs to unveil grassroots solutions and voices. In Cambodia, CSOs have surfaced innovations such as women adapting and adopting the System of Rice Intensification (SRI) to suit their own farming needs. SRI is a package of crop husbandry practices that can dramatically improve productivity and climate resilience of hand-planted rice crops, and has now been adopted as a component of national agricultural strategies in developing countries around the world. When it comes to advocacy, CSOs are continually fostering grassroots champions who are able to speak on behalf of their communities and add their voice to that of their State representatives on issues on national significance. And in multiple countries, CSOs are shedding light on hitherto unforeseen risks such as land concentration and forced displacement of small farmers due to commercialized agriculture.

The challenge for the decision-makers of the day is to acknowledge and invest in these roles, even if to do so requires a departure from the ways of old. Alas, this does not appear to be happening. Despite the gross inadequacy of fast-track financing delivered since the Copenhagen Accord in 2009, anticipation of multi-lateral and bi-lateral fund flows has seen a proliferation of would-be planning and fund management mechanisms in developing countries. To date, these have tended toward the modus operandi of multi-lateral and bi-lateral development agencies and they are not particularly inclusive of State or civil society interests, nor the need to progressively build robust engagements by all these stakeholders. Indeed, this continued tendency toward top-down planning and fund management mechanisms has failed to recognize that where decision-makers do recognize and invest in CSO engagement, the returns are genuine.

Oxfam is undertaking research in Cambodia and six other countries to better understand the role of civil society, governments, and donors in the national governance of climate change finance in developing countries, and particularly how to ensure that climate-related funds reach those who need it most.

In Cambodia, civil society has not enjoyed a consistent space for engagement within the government's National Climate Change Committee (NCCC); the Cambodian Climate Change Alliance (CCCA), a UNDP-held trust fund for adaptation and capacity building funded by European donors; or the World Bank's Pilot Program for Climate Resilience (PPCR). Civil society groups that have been consulted on the development of the National Adaptation Programme of Action (NAPA) were asked to react to a nearly finalized project document, rather than invited to input in the early stages. While the PPCR held at least one workshop with civil society participation and the CCCA held a national and provincial consultation, these consultations were not interactive, rushed, and limited in scope. Thus, there is concern that the planning processes will miss out on important contributions from civil society and that the role of non-governmental organization will be relegated solely to contractees implementing projects, rather than being fully engaged in the national strategy.

There is a particular gap in Cambodia and other countries we studied in incorporating the needs of rural communities. Official project documents in Cambodia connected to the adaptation monies listed above may note that there is a need to communicate with rural communities to gather information on their perceptions of the potential impacts and their suggestions of how to respond, but there is no evidence of this level of consultation in practice. Civil society could play a role in strengthening cooperation between commune (local) government investment plans and the climate adaptation plans undertaken in the capital. This could be done through capacity-building of commune governments, bolstering transparency by monitoring how funds are channeled and used, and identifying coping and adaptation mechanisms that are already being used by communities. Civil society, however, also has a responsibility to maximize the representation of diverse interests, particularly those of local NGOs and communities outside the capital.

While it is too early to fully evaluate the governance challenges of adaptation finance, due to the fact that funds have yet to flow in significant amounts to countries, funding models will likely fall across a spectrum where spending is donor-driven on one hand or country-owned on the other. By country-owned, we refer to both the role of governments in channeling finance and the role of civil society in holding governments accountable to the most pressing needs. In several of the countries we studied, donors are wary of investing in the Ministry of Environment to coordinate the channeling of climate finance due to limited capacity, administrative hold-ups, and in some cases incidents of misappropriation of funds. When finance is channeled in a way that circumvents, rather than strengthens, existing government structures, this can impede the ability of civil society and vulnerable groups to maintain a strong engagement with their government.

However, government ownership does not guarantee that the most vulnerable groups will get the support they need. The criteria for prioritizing some adaptation projects over others to receive funding can be opaque to those outside the responsible government department, and sufficient monitoring mechanisms have largely been absent in the countries we've studied.

Information related to climate finance processes is often not available, easily accessible, or centrally organized. Government departments in many developing countries are short-staffed and often have limited capacity to effectively lead and engage in climate finance processes, let alone comprehensive consultation processes. For example in Cambodia, limited capacity has been cited as the government's primary challenge in addressing climate change. The solution to this capacity gap in any country often comes in the form of donor-supplied international consultants or staff in foreign capitals, making it difficult to strengthen and sustain engagement between civil society and the state.

Civil society, vulnerable groups, and women's organizations are at an even greater disadvantage in terms of capacity and resources to engage in such processes, and are in need of capacity-building assistance. Finally, governments struggle to coordinate climate planning with other key national, local, and regional strategies, such as those related to poverty reduction or gender equality. This has resulted in a lack of ownership across government departments and among civil society, and in several countries the abandonment of unimplemented climate adaptation plans and/or prioritization of large-scale infrastructure projects over soft investments that dovetail with national poverty reduction goals.

All of this points to the fact that citizen participation in the national adaptation strategy and implementation of climate adaptation finance should be transformative, not cosmetic, resulting in inputs that are visible in the final outcome.

Governments should create and maintain a space to enable accountable and responsible civil society and community participation. In several countries, we have seen the establishment of a national civil society network or coalition that liaises with and facilitates full participation in the government-led process. If civil society organizations and representatives of local communities and marginalized groups were to receive support to create these kinds of networks in more countries and at different levels, it could help ensure more targeted and comprehensive adaptation planning that is supported from the ground up.

Civil society representatives have also served on oversight or governance Boards, a role that has helped to ensure direct inputs while reducing the transaction costs of consultations in the case of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria. Governments, and any institution that serves as a national or multilateral implementing entity (NIE or MIE) for climate finance, should employ minimum standards for consultation from the design to evaluation phase, in order to facilitate meaningful contributions by civil society and communities.

Accountability in climate finance is a two-way street. In order for civil society organizations to make a greater contribution, governments need to provide the conditions for effective involvement. The funds being devoted to climate adaptation in developing countries will have an enormous impact on developing economies and communities, and the most vulnerable groups must have a voice in how these funds are spent. Failing to invest in country ownership and capacity for state and non-state actors alike will undermine the ability of both governments and civil society to effectively respond to climate change.

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