Climate financing and the problem of akrasia

Published: September 1, 2017
The writer is a Pakistan enthusiast and an MPhil student at GIDS, Lahore School of Economics. 
He can be reached at

The writer is a Pakistan enthusiast and an MPhil student at GIDS, Lahore School of Economics. He can be reached at

During the summer of 1830, Victor Hugo irked his publisher due to his continuous procrastination and outdoor shenanigans, and was facing an impossible deadline to write his magnum opus The Hunchback of Notre Dame. To deal with this problem, he decided to get rid of all the distractions, therefore, he threw out all his clothes except a large shawl, which prevented him from going out and left him with no choice other than to write. As a result, he completed his masterpiece two weeks before that impossible deadline. Hugo always knew what was the right thing to do, but he was not ready to do it, until the distraction devices were gotten rid of. This moral dilemma that Socrates calls ‘Akrasia’ runs through most elements of the environmental debate, and the notion of climate financing is not an exception to it. Developed economies know pretty well how and how much they would have to invest in order to mitigate and help developing economies adapt to climate change, but they are unable to take the necessary steps due to the presence of distraction devices and the absence of effective commitment devices.

The first so-called ‘moral’ commitment came in 1992 when the UNFCCC stated that “new and additional financial resources” must be channelled by the developed to developing economies in order to deal with climate change. It happened during the same time when the notion of ecological debt started to create some ripples, which stated that the global North owes global South a cumulative debt for all the environmental damaging activities it has undertaken that led to grave repercussions in the global South. This notion gave legal basis to the developing economies to demand monetary compensation against the damages, but it was softened and expanded into morally binding notions like ‘Common But Differentiated Responsibilities’ and ‘climate financing’ There is nothing wrong with moral commitments but the idea is pitched to a set of people who follow laws of questionable morals, ie, capitalists. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that what actually is a moral and legal obligation (debt) is considered today as an act of generosity (aid), which has such stringent conditionalities that extremely vulnerable countries like Pakistan are unable to access what they are morally entitled to — the Green Climate Fund (GCF). Even the more recent ‘moral’ commitment made at the 2010 Cancun Conference that the developed economies will mobilise $100 billion per year by the year 2020 to meet the needs of developing economies have largely lagged according to CFS report 2016 by Oxfam. Therefore, one thing has to be borne in mind that the capitalist system is too wild a horse to be tamed by moral commitments. It needs to be bridled and bound by legal instruments for effective mobilisation of international climate finance.

Too busy and distracted in furthering development and mitigation projects, developed economies have largely refrained from disbursing for adaptation which is critical for developing economies where protecting the masses from extreme weather events is much more urgent than mitigating emissions that already are meagre in contrast to the global North. Climate Policy Initiative reports that out of the average total of $367 billion pumped into the low carbon projects, only $27 billion have been invested for adaptation. According to some estimates reported by IIED in 2009, the cost of adaptation alone in the developing world would cost North $100 billion. Therefore, the GCF controlled $100 billion must have to be spent largely on the adaptation projects for two reasons; one, such projects are short term that suits the mentality of soft states like Pakistan who have short time horizons, and second, in agricultural countries like Pakistan, where flash floods obliterate the most fertile parts of the country and leaves the communities fatally reeling from food insecurity, reliance on such disbursements is automatic and critical especially in the absence of proper climate finance mechanisms.

Surely developing countries such as Pakistan have a duty to help themselves, to establish structures and generate climate finances domestically to meet their needs and there has been some progress, but overall the priorities are jumbled so much that the prime minister failed to even install a climate change minister for the better part of 2016. Moreover, it should also be kept in account that finances of countries like Pakistan are too constrained by foreign debts, and when coupled with capitalist fetish to ‘develop’, it gets ultra-hard to make room for astute investments like climate financing especially when they are bearing the brunt for the actions of others.

It might be the first time in the history of everything that even ambition is not meeting the requirement, even the ambition of $100 billion commitment is not enough, especially when quoted in the light of $5.7 trillion required to be invested annually in green infrastructure as quoted by the World Economic Forum. The realisation of this far-fetched dream rests on reviewing the very fundamentals and installing environment as the common denominator in the real sense. In the high profile negotiations one thing is often forgotten, ie, fundamental flaws of human nature that is host to all kinds of maladies, be it racism, sexism, ethnicism, nationalism and what not. In the most intolerant era of all times, one can hardly expect all humans to collectively work and finance for the benefit of other humans. Therefore, it becomes a matter of immense importance that we start considering environment as a living breathing entity that needs to be saved not for me, or you or them, but for itself. It is time to throw out all our ‘clothes’ and get fixated on the task at hand. It is time to do what we know is right, otherwise these numbers will simply get more and more interesting for the math enthusiasts.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 1st, 2017.

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