ANALYSIS - Rich face triple aid test on environment, poverty

BONN, Germany Thu Jun 10, 2010 9:22pm IST

Yvo de Boer, head of the U.N. Climate Change Secretariat, attends a news conference at the 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen December 19, 2009. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins/Files

Yvo de Boer, head of the U.N. Climate Change Secretariat, attends a news conference at the 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen December 19, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Ints Kalnins/Files

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BONN, Germany (Reuters) - Struggling with budget cuts at home, rich nations face scrutiny in 2010 of a triple set of pledges to help poor nations combat climate change, curb poverty and safeguard endangered species.

Demands totalling tens of billions of dollars in extra aid come at a difficult time, especially for the debt-stricken euro zone whose members struggled to agree a bailout package for fellow member Greece.

"We have to watch it very carefully," said Yvo de Boer, the U.N.'s top climate official, of a 2009 promise by rich nations at the Copenhagen summit to provide an extra $10 billion a year from 2010-12 to help poor states combat global warming.

Many developing nations at climate talks in Bonn from May 31-June 11 doubt the promised money will materialise, even though payouts could raise confidence in a step towards unblocking a treaty to slow floods, droughts, storms and rising sea levels.

"This is not new. This is not additional, this is from the pipeline, from traditional development assistance," said Quamrul Islam Chowdhury of Bangladesh, main negotiator for the Group of 77 poor nations at the 185-nation meeting.

"We want no double counting, we want a fair and transparent process," he said of the fast-start Copenhagen funds.

In addition to climate funds, rich nations will be under pressure at a U.N. summit in New York in September to meet promises of extra aid to halve extreme poverty as part of the 2015 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

As part of the MDGs, the Group of Eight industrialised nations is to promise aid to protect maternal health and children at a summit in Canada in late June. The G8 is under pressure to meet a so far unkept G8 promise from 2005 to double aid to Africa by 2010.

BIODIVERSITY

Finally, a meeting of the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity in Japan in October is due to promise a sharp rise in cash to protect animal and plant life, now about $3 billion a year by 2020. Experts say a twenty-fold increase may be needed.

A worry is that a donor could provide $1 million to protect a carbon-absorbing forest and then claim that the same cash is safeguarding biodiversity and helping achieve the MDGs by helping local people.

"We are worried that money is accounted in the wrong way," said Norway's Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, who heads an international U.N. panel looking at ways to find $100 billion a year from 2020 to help poor nations combat climate change.

"We have to ensure transparency," he said.

Susan Brown, acting director of global and regional policy at WWF International, said investments in biodiversity and climate were vital to ensure a healthy environment, including the world's food supplies.

"This year there will be calls for new money from developed countries, and calls for new commitments by developing countries. Between that there is an awful lot of politics and smoke and mirrors," she said.

One problem is that developing nations say "new and additional" funds need to be above an unkept promise made in the 1970s by rich nations to provide at least 0.7 percent of their gross national income (GNI) in aid.

Many developed nations say "new and additional" means above existing levels. Stoltenberg said the definition for the $100 billion from 2020 still had to be worked out.

Net aid disbursements in 2008 totalled $119 billion, the highest dollar figure ever and equivalent of 0.3 percent of GNI, according to U.N. data. Promises at the G8 Gleneagles summit in 2005 implied that aid would increase from $80 billion to $130 billion in 2010, at 2004 prices.

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development says it uses "markers" to try to track environmental aid -- it estimates that $3.5 billion a year went to climate, $3 billion to biodiversity and $1.5 billion to desertification in 2006-07.

And it says it is hard to untangle.

"It's like a meal -- you have nutrition, you have health and you have enjoyment," said Remi Paris, a senior OECD official. "There is an enormous amount of overlap."

For Reuters latest environment blogs, click on: blogs.reuters.com/environment/

(Editing by Janet Lawrence)

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