Climate Resilience or Climate Toast, Whichever Comes First: Probing Corruption and Climate Change in Africa

Climate change and the threats it poses to sustainable economic development is now dominating and challenging the international development agenda. Corruption, as often, is the blind spot of many academic, political and policy debates on climate change, while corruption has an impact on every policy related to climate change and the policy frameworks impact corruption in their turn. Thus, it is without any doubt, illogical and inefficient to consider them separately. If we didn’t, we would do a better job in addressing climate change and its consequences since while it is not inevitable that many corruption cases in climate finance will come to light, some of the ingredients that will foster such an outcome are in place. 

The growing demands of the climate change agenda and the fight against corruption
Climate change basically requires two different courses of action; mitigation to reduce emissions and stop further climate change on the one hand, and adaptation to the effects of climate change that are already being felt on the other. Yet, climate change governance goes beyond greenhouse gas emissions and their negative effect on the environment as it is linked to major issues of development such as the delivery of basic public services, especially to the poor, public financial management, sustainable national development strategies and energy policies, and financing for aid and technical assistance. Tackling the role of corruption in many of the above areas is crucial to achieving better sustainable development outcomes, and, as a result, climate change must be an area of key concern for anti-corruption stakeholders.

In Cameroon, the government has acknowledged that corruption and poor governance are hampering the fight against climate change. Transparency International’s Global Corruption Report: Climate Change highlighted the role of good governance and transparency in integrating the many policy agendas that affect climate change, and proposed opportunities for employing anti-corruption tools in preventative climate change mechanisms (green branding) or market-driven reform (carbon trading schemes and projects within the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM); and Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation and Conserving and Enhancing Forest Carbon Stocks (REDD+). Ironically, the large sums of money being spent on capacity building activities – training seminars and other similar programmes – needed to effectively implement the climate governance interventions and their associated expenses such as hotel costs and participants’ allowances are now threatening to curtail efforts to support meaningful climate action at the local level. No wonder in many African countries such as Kenya, climate change is now a major cash cow for corrupt public officials who are engaging in vicious fights to control the windfall. 

Aspects of the international development agenda relevant to climate change and corruption issues
 At first glance, it might seem unintuitive to link climate change and corruption issues. Corruption is one of the causes of climate change and existing interventions to address climate change already highlight corruption risk. Approaches to mitigating or adapting to climate change which take the form of public policy reform, such as via increased carbon taxes, or are market driven, such as carbon trading under the CDM in the natural resources and energy markets are affected by corruption and in turn impact climate change.

Corruption is thus a critical component of responses to climate change at all levels and it should be integrated in all aspects of climate change planning and decision making. While it is widely acknowledged that corruption has significant negative effects on natural resource management and the environment, the evidence of such impacts are still limited. What’s more, there is greater uncertainty on how policies to reduce corruption in sectors such as forestry, fisheries, and water management should be developed and what they may consist of given the risk, for instance, that they might criminalize the rural poor. Corruption aspects of climate change are thus a matter of justice, human rights, and human security. The use of transparency and accountability measures when dealing with the effects of climate change – such as in relief and aid in mass migration, food scarcity, drought, flood, post-disaster settings – imply the anti-corruption community must adapt or apply existing mechanisms/solutions wherever appropriate as it increasingly gets involved in the climate change debate so that they reduce, or at least do not increase the corruption risk.

Need for cooperation across many sectors (public and private; energy and finance and agriculture; national and international) if change is to be sustainable, effective and successful
As we move towards the July inter-governmental meeting to hammer out a new framework for global finance in Addis Ababa and the December 21st meeting of the COP in Paris to sign a new global agreement to control human-induced climate change, the policy frameworks that will govern climate change in future need to be more responsive to the demands by citizens worldwide for increased accountability and transparency. To reduce the risk of corruption associated with climate finance, solutions will require international and even greater intra-national cooperation, such as the better coordination of the environmental and finance agendas. The concern of citizens, of people, must drive this cooperation and the solutions sought must be equitable which is the reason why stakeholders from both areas now need to work together to find solutions.

If we do not implement corruption-sensitive policies to fight climate change, it will have disastrous consequences on an already precarious situation. Strong and sustainable governance of the emerging climate change regime is essential. Without it, more people’s lives and livelihoods will be put at risk resulting in exerting even more costs than the climate change occurrence alone. We need to act now to develop the tools, economic incentives and political will to provide the cleanest possible way forward for the planet. Mainstreaming the corruption perspective is not only a sensible choice for our societies; it is a better, more efficient way to reach our overall climate change governance goals.