If there is any one thing that we know is unequivocally bad for the climate, surely it has to be coal-fired power plants, which are the world’s single biggest source of carbon emissions. Perhaps officials in Japan didn’t get the memo.
Negotiators and NGO observers at last year’s climate talks in Peru were outraged when it was revealed that a $1 billion expenditure the Japanese government booked under the UN climate finance initiative had actually been spent on the construction of three new coal plants in Indonesia built by Japanese companies. The new Green Climate Fund is supposed to support investments in climate change mitigation and adaptation in developing countries. Japanese officials defended the accounting scheme by arguing that the new plants are “green” because they burn coal more efficiently than an older generation of energy facilities.
UN officials and watchdog groups weren’t having it. UN climate chief Christiana Figueres told the Associated Press that “there is no argument” for spending climate finance in this manner. “Unabated coal has no room in the future energy system,” she said. “Over time, what we should be seeing is a very, very clear trend of investment into clean renewable energy.” Karen Orenstein of Friends of the Earth said, “Climate finance is such a mess. It needs to get straightened out. It would be such a shame if those resources went to fossil fuel-based technologies. It would be counterproductive.”
Unfortunately – and embarrassingly – the UN hasn’t formally defined what qualifies as climate finance, and there is no mechanism for following contributions and ensuring they are being spent on, say, almost anything other than coal-fired power plants. Given the lack of clear rules around climate finance, it looks like Japan will get away with its creative accounting. Hopefully, the UN will close this loophole before more climate finance – including money in the newly established Green Climate Fund – can be spent on any more dirty energy projects.
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