Climate finance leads to land grab in the Global South

At this moment policy makers from 195 countries are together in Katowice, Poland, for the annual UNFCCC Climate Change Conference (COP24) to discuss their commitments to reduce the emission of greenhouse gasses. Countries can achieve these reductions in emissions (partly) by investing money in climate mitigation measures in other countries, for instance by introducing cleaner technologies or by reducing deforestation in the Global South. This mechanism is called climate finance and is portrayed as the Holy Grail by the international policy community in the quest to combat climate change. 

The question is, do these policy makers know (or perhaps do they want to know) how climate financed projects unfold in everyday life? Empirical research that we carried out in Ethiopia and Indonesia shows that climate financed forestry projects negatively affect the livelihoods of smallholder farmers, exacerbate conflicts over natural resources, trigger illegal logging, and even lead to state-sanctioned land grab. 

Climate finance allows rich countries and companies to appropriate reduced emission elsewhere for a mere pittance. It is not a Holy Grail but it is yet another example of the neoliberal agenda to dodge responsibilities and passing the buck on the poor. Of course we can, and perhaps should, help each other to introduce cleaner technologies and protect forest reserves, but climate finance mechanisms have too many perverse incentives to achieve this in a fair and sustainable way. Unfortunately the well-intended effort of advocacy groups at local and international level to demand safeguards to protect these people is at best managing in the margin and at worst legitimizing a structurally unequal process.

We can only hope that some policy makers in Katowice have the courage to focus on measures in their own countries, even if this is politically less attractive…..!

(Read full blog in Dutch on Wetenschap.nu)


Jeltsje Kemerink-Seyoum

Jeltsje Sanne Kemerink-Seyoum is a Senior Lecturer and Researcher in Water Governance at the IHE Delft Institute for Water Education. She has a combined background in civil engineering and social sciences and engages in research that foregrounds inequities in water distributions.

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