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cattle, reservoir, Burkina Faso
Young men watch over their cattle at a reservoir in Burkina Faso. In 1992 the West African nation was an early signer of a UN convention on climate change, but it has been hit hard by drought and desertification. Photo credit: CIFOR / Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Rich countries that have promised to help their less fortunate peers with shouldering the burden of coping with and fighting climate change are cooking the books to pretend that they are living up to their commitments.

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Rich countries that have promised to help their less fortunate peers with shouldering the burden of coping with and fighting climate change are cooking the books to pretend that they are living up to their commitments, a report released today shows.

In 2009, the world’s wealthiest countries agreed that, beginning in 2020, they would provide $100 billion per year to ensure that low- and middle-income countries would have the funds to fight climate change. So far, they failed to deliver, according to the report, which the advocacy group Oxfam published at the start of the Bonn Climate Summit in Germany. Even worse, these countries are using a series of gimmicks to pretend that they are holding up their end of the bargain.

As a result, while donor nations claim that they mobilized more than $83 billion in 2020, the actual figure is much lower, Oxfam says. The group estimates that, at most, the real value of this aid was $24.5 billion. Of that money, only $11.5 billion went to climate adaptation programs that allow vulnerable countries to address the increasingly harmful effects of climate change.

“Don’t be fooled into thinking $11.5 billion is anywhere near enough for low- and middle-income countries to help their people cope with more and bigger floods, hurricanes, firestorms, droughts and other terrible harms brought about by climate change,” said Nafkote Dabi, Oxfam International’s climate change policy lead. “People in the US spend four times more than that each year feeding their cats and dogs.”

So how is it that rich countries are claiming that they have provided tens of billions of dollars when the actual total is much less?

For one, by designating the bulk of the money they do give as loans and not grants. As a result, they are burdening the recipients with even more debt, which forces them to tighten their belts. And when that happens, projects meant to fight climate change end up on the chopping block. Therefore, this so-called “aid” can have the opposite effect.

“Despite their extreme vulnerability to climate impacts, the world’s poorest countries, particularly the least developed countries and small island developing states, are simply not receiving enough support,” Dabi noted. “Instead, they are being driven deeper into debt.”

Among individual countries, France is the worst offender in this regard. A whopping 92 percent of the money it provides comes in the form of loans, Oxfam found. Japan at 90 percent and Spain at 88 percent are not far behind.

In addition, 90 percent of all climate finance made available by multilateral development banks, such as the World Bank, came in the form of loans.

Other gimmicks these countries and institutions use to make themselves look more generous include taking money from other aid projects or mislabeling cash, according to Oxfam.

That not only hurts the at-risk countries now, but will also harm all of us in the long run, the group argues.

“Rich countries are treating poorer countries with contempt,” Dabi said “In doing so, they are fatally undermining crucial climate negotiations. They’re playing a dangerous game where we will all lose out.”

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