One of the most closely-watched changes to come out of China’s recent ministerial shake-up was the creation in mid-April of the China International Development Cooperation Agency (CIDCA), equivalent to the United States Agency for International Development or the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development—agencies responsible for administering foreign aid and development assistance.
Although this sub-ministerial body does not have an official website yet, it got off to a quick start, announcing on May 16 that China would send emergency humanitarian aid to Kenya in response to severe flooding.
CIDCA’s mission, make-up and responsibilities are still being defined so it’s unclear precisely how it will affect China’s overseas aid, the Belt and Road Initiative, and wider South-South cooperation, particularly in the area of climate change adaptation and mitigation.
Cooperation on climate
China’s South-South climate cooperation has focused on providing aid to less developed nations commensurate with its position as the world’s largest developing country. The country’s overseas aid has had a climate change component for more than a decade and this has expanded over the years.
In 2012 the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) announced that funding would be doubled for climate change aid to about US$72 million a year. Subsequently, a project to donate materials to help countries respond to climate change got underway, headed by the NDRC’s Department of Climate Change and funded by the Ministry of Finance. Notably, this included the donation of a meteorological satellite to Ethiopia.
In September 2015, before the Paris climate conference, China stepped up its commitment when Xi Jinping announced a 20 billion yuan (US$3.1 billion) South-South Climate Cooperation Fund. Two months later, in Paris, the government clarified its scope: from 2016 China would fund 10 low-carbon demonstration projects, 100 climate change adaptation and mitigation projects, and 1,000 training places in developing nations (the “10-100-1000” plan).
More recently, the 19th Communist Party of China National Congress work report stressed that China would cooperate internationally on climate change to contribute to and lead in the construction of an international “ecological civilisation”.
China views developed nations as having a responsibility to developing countries, owing to their historical emissions of greenhouse gases. In contrast, China is assisting developing nations out of a sense of climate justice rather than obligation. This has shaped China’s assistance, which is “voluntary” and “supplementary”, and stands separate from that of developed nations, which are channelling climate finance contributions through the Green Climate Fund (GCF), a United Nations fund to help developing nations counter climate change.
Following the decision by President Trump to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate accord, China’s actions have been closely watched.
China’s pledge of 20 billion yuan to the South-South Climate Cooperation Fund was part of the Obama-Xi Joint Statement in 2015 that was made shortly before the Paris talks started. In that statement, the US made an equivalent pledge of US$3 billion to the Green Climate Fund. President Trump has said that the US will not honour the US$2 billion that remains to be paid to the GCF, raising the concern that China might also step back from its commitment.
The shoe doesn’t fit
Providing direct material aid and training is relatively straightforward. However, other elements of the “10-100-1000” plan had to be implemented within a framework that was not fit for purpose. The mismatch prevented plans going ahead as scheduled.
The first issue was funding. The NDRC is responsible for macro-level planning and has no overseas remit. The Ministry of Finance’s rules require that the NDRC’s South-South climate cooperation spending and procurement take place in China. The “10-100-1000” plan, therefore, had to be designed to fit that requirement, with the 100 mitigation and adaptation projects limited to material donations – and to those goods that could be purchased in China. This affected both the quality and pace of project delivery.
Similarly, the 10 low-carbon demonstration projects were originally intended to be industrial zones or residential neighbourhoods in recipient countries, promoting general low-carbon development practices (in planning, management and infrastructure construction). But again, the requirement for procurement in China hindered progress.
Then there were personnel issues. As the only option was to buy goods at home, the NDRC’s Department of Climate Change needed to quickly develop new competencies to ensure quality procurement: tendering processes, technical workflows, product standards, financial reporting, working across languages, negotiating, and assessing the needs of different nations. This was clearly too much to expect from a department previously responsible for climate change policy.
The final issue was communication. The domestic role of the NDRC means it has no direct links with other countries and so no way to directly communicate with recipient nations.
While the Ministry of Foreign Affairs traditionally handles overseas relationships, China’s expanding links with the rest of the world mean that the Ministry’s embassies abroad were already stretched. Although willing to help implement the plan, they lacked sufficient capacity to do so.
Faced with these constraints, those in charge had to come up with alternative approaches. For example, in August 2016 international non-governmental organisation Oxfam used its expertise to help the Department of Climate Change tour south-east Asia to assess the needs of developing countries. This helped to refine the “10-100-1000” plan and work around the department’s lack of international links.
The Department of Climate Change and the UN Development Programme then held a “matchmaking” meeting to connect the needs of developing nations with types of support that China could provide.
In March 2017, China donated clean cooking stoves and domestic solar power systems to Myanmar, with project delivery entrusted to the Global Environment Institute, a Chinese non-governmental organisation. These moves were all unprecedented.
Eco-Business published this story with permission from The Third Pole. Read the full story.
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