The UN's past record of suddenly injecting vast sums of money into countries to solve a problem doesn't bode well for the future of the massive Green Climate Fund, say three University of British Columbia professors.
They published a paper in the journal Science on Wednesday arguing there needs to be accountability to ensure the fund actually succeeds in preparing the developing world for climate change.
"What we're worried about is that if the $30 billion isn't managed well and doesn't provide real results on the ground, you know, that's going to sap the public and political will to give the larger amount of money that's needed in the future," said Simon Donner, a UBC climate scientist, in an interview.
Delegates at an upcoming UN conference in Durban, South Africa are expected to discuss the issue.
The $30-billion Green Climate Fund is part of a massive international effort to help the developing world prepare for climate change and follows a commitment by developed countries in Cancun, Mexico in December 2010 to mobilize $100 billion a year, starting in 2020, for the effort.
So large are the initiatives, say the authors, that they represent about 80 per cent of "all existing annual official development assistance from major donors" and could radically alter international lending.
In fact, the commitment is roughly the equivalent of the four-year Marshall Plan, the program the United States developed to rebuild Europe after the Second World War, say the authors.
But when a massive amount of money is injected into a country or program over a short period of time, waste and misappropriation sometimes result, say the authors.
They point specifically to aid efforts after the 2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean.
They say international aid overwhelmed local agencies, and those agencies wasted funds on "publicity stunts aimed at showing the international audience that the agencies were 'taking action."'
Donner, Milind Kandlikar and Hisham Zerriffi argue the Green Climate Fund must take a different approach.
The money must be "new" and "additional," not resources reallocated from other programs, and it must be spent on initiatives that make a difference on the ground.
But the authors say only four of 20 countries contributing to the fund may be providing "entirely 'new' or 'additional' investments."'
The three say the money is critical because climate change is expected to impose an enormous human and economic toll on the developing world, even though those countries have not been responsible for climate change.
And Donner said in an interview that the country of Kiribati, a low lying atoll in the middle of the Pacific ocean, is even in danger of disappearing from the map entirely because of rising sea levels.
He said some areas of Bangladesh are also in jeopardy from rising sea levels, and Africa faces issues of drought because of climate change.
Canadians should be concerned because climate change is an issue of equity and will affect this country, too, resulting perhaps in mass migration, changes to the world economy and impacts on food production, said Donner.
"If we want to solve climate change, if we want to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, you know, we can't do it alone in the developed world," said Donner.
"We need to help the developing world industrialize in a way that is less carbon intensive. It's just a necessity to solving the problem... We can't ignore what happens in other parts of the planet, even for our own selfish reasons, for our own prosperity."