Can you feel sorry for a climate bureaucrat? Well I do. Look at my fellow Aussie Howard Bamsey. He’s been implementing climate policies abroad for the past decade, after a stint as deputy secretary in Kevin Rudd’s Climate Change Department in 2008-10.
Then he ran the Seoul-based multilateral Global Green Growth Institute and 18 months ago became executive director of the UN-created Green Climate Fund (GCF), now the financial muscle of the 2015 Paris Accord.
At the 24-member board meeting last month at the Songdo, South Korea headquarters, the chaos was such that he finished the meeting by tabling a surprise resignation effective immediately (‘pressing personal reasons’). He walked out of the room a free man.
The 24-person board at the four-day meeting spent the first two days quarrelling about the agenda, and the next two days in such acrimony that it never approved the intended $US1b for 11 new grants to help its basket-case client States ‘mitigate and adapt’ to climate change. Nor did it get around to solving where its desperately-needed top-up funding would come from – it’s only got $US2.8b free funds left from an original $US10.3b.
The previous board minutes ran to 111 single-spaced pages plus 130 pages of appendixes, in total about 100,000 words. Maybe poor Bamsey couldn’t face another 100,000 word write-up, especially as this meeting could well precipitate the GCF’s collapse or a split into separate donor and recipient entities.
We Aussie taxpayers have so far contributed $A185m cash to the Green Climate Fund, with another $A15m due before Christmas: total $A200m. This is as pledged by PM Tony Abbott in December 2014 (what was he thinking?). It could be worse: Sweden ($US580m) and Norway ($US270m) have peed more against the GCF wall. Those canny Kiwis across the ditch ‘invested’ only $NZ3m. The Danes stopped at $US72m. Canada put in $US275m, but $US100m of it was a loan. Our $200m is just the tip of an iceberg – Turnbull pledged ‘at least’ $1b in Paris fealty in 2015 just as Donald Trump won office, and the billion’s now more-or-less delivered.
At last month’s GCF meeting, Howard Bamsey’s dummy-spit was not the only sensation. Co-chair Paul Oquist, National Policies Minister of the nasty Nicaraguan regime, was a no-show, citing the civil unrest at home (so far, 500 protesters shot). But he actually skedaddled to London, complaining to the Guardian there about demonstrators’ looting, fake news and ‘quite depraved killings’.
Logjam and stalemate are built into the GCF constitution. Board decisions must be unanimous. Equal power goes to those who provide the cash (ourselves) and those who enjoy it, mainly African shitholes (Trump’s words) and lying low-lying islands like the Maldives, Nauru and Tuvalu which pretend they’re drowning under climatic seas.
Once mendicants get their paws on the funds, no-one else is allowed in to supervise.
The GCF third-worlders couldn’t work out how to replace Oquist. The first-world’s co-chair Lennart Bage (Sweden) was left in limbo, lamenting what he called a ‘very difficult and disappointing’ meeting. Our man Chris Tinning of Foreign Affairs (DFAT) is on the board but hasn’t piped up publicly.
Various green groups attended the meeting, like ‘Action Aid USA’. Its director, Brandon Wu, reported that some third-world board reps were out of their depth: ‘Many of these people did not know how to navigate the minefield and the dynamics of the board, so there were a lot of little things that triggered people — and then those things spiraled into an hour long argument that could’ve been very easily avoided.’
Other board members protested about the meetings continuing past dinner time, 6pm. Mr Wu lamented, ‘Even if those comments were made in good faith, they were just denying the reality of what a democratic decision-making process looks like.’
The big player at GCF used to be the US. Obama had pledged $US3b and put in $US500m. During his last three days in office in January 2017, the feline president handed over a further $US500m by executive order as a so-there to his successor. Trump pulled out of Paris six months later, making clear that GCF could go whistle for the missing $US2b.
The gap between Copenhagen/Paris money aspirations and reality is the stuff of farce. Australia via Kevin Rudd in 2009 agreed on this:
In the context of meaningful mitigation actions and transparency on implementation, developed countries commit to a goal of mobilising jointly USD 100 billion dollars a year by 2020 to address the needs of developing countries… A significant portion of such funding should flow through the Copenhagen Green Climate Fund.
GCF’s previous executive director, Hela Cheikhrouhou, had chirruped about a need for $US450b a year after 2020, $US350b for fewer emissions and $US100b for adaptation.
So it’s tighten-belts time at GCF. There seems some fat there. Its 250 bureaucrats’ pay is virtually tax-free and in US dollars. Staff get ‘a rewarding benefits package’ to meet the ‘growing global competition for talent’. There’s 26 days annual leave and 10 public holidays, plus 15 sick days, and up to 20 days can be worked at home or remotely. Not to mention special living allowances, dependency and schooling aid for three children, and that delectable quasi-diplomatic passport. Candidates of all ‘gender identity and/or expression’ are welcome.
As for contributions to the fund after 2018, let’s hope PM Turnbull doesn’t get that generosity vibe at the next climate confab in Katowice, Poland in December. DFAT tells me: ‘Australia, with other developed countries, is committed to playing its part in achieving the goal of mobilising US$100b a year by 2020 from a variety of sources to support developing countries’ climate action.’ Who knows what new commitments to GCF Mr Turnbull could pull out of his hat? Recall his $444m last April to a six-person Barrier Reef group, and $230m for Julia Gillard’s Global Partnership for Education in Washington DC.
Generosity can take a toll.