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African countries spending to meet the Paris climate promise

Written by Neil Bird


This year, Earth Day will go down in history as the moment 174 countries (plus the EU) signed the Paris Agreement. Now the UN climate negotiations are over, attention shifts to another challenge: how countries will deliver on their promises.

At a recent meeting I attended in New York, a representative from a Caribbean State stood up and asked how this global agreement can be translated into her national development plan. She asked this because in many countries there is only room for one policy vision; the national development strategy.

Across the world, economic development is the overarching concern, from maintaining current levels of affluence in rich countries to speeding up poverty reduction in poorer countries. For the Paris Agreement to have any impact, it must reflect this reality and become embedded explicitly in national development processes.

The evidence of this happening is mixed, but a good litmus test is public spending on climate action. The ODI report Public spending on climate change in Africa, co-written with leading research institutes in Africa, analyses how a number of African countries are responding to the new development agenda through their national budget allocations.

Ethiopia embarked on an ambitious climate change strategy under former Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, and has subsequently built on those foundations. Climate change is now recognised as a priority in the country’s new national development plan and this is reflected by public spending on climate change across the federal government’s budget. In addition, in both Ethiopia and Ghana, most climate change-relevant spending is embedded in broader development actions within the national budget, where responding to climate change is recognised as one of several objectives for the planned expenditure.

There is much to learn from this approach to conceptualising climate finance, as governments will continue to prioritise economic development.

Elsewhere, the situation appears less advanced, both in terms of climate change featuring in the national development plan and relevant spending appearing in the national budget. In both Tanzania and Uganda, most relevant spending identified in the study was not labelled as climate change expenditure in the budget documentation.

In other words, the national budgets didn’t make the connection between development and climate change priorities. As a consequence, government departments were spending money on tackling climate change without realising its significance.

This needs to change – climate change needs to be explicitly recognised as an objective of public expenditure. One important driver of such change will come from climate change being recognised as a priority in national development plans, as these help to drive allocations in the national budget.

Our report, which looks in detail at public spending in Ethiopia, Ghana, Tanzania and Uganda, recommends that most climate actions be part of larger development programmes, rather than be funded as stand-alone actions.

We therefore need an effective mainstreaming strategy that recognises that sustainable development is only possible when climate change is explicitly factored into both economic plans and national budgets. Only then will the necessary public funding flow to keep the promises made in the Paris Agreement.