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Interview with Bilal Anwar, General Manager of the Climate Finance Access Hub (CCFAH)

Bilal Anwar
Mr Bilal Anwar, General Manager of the Climate Finance Access Hub


Can you tell us about the work of the Climate Finance Access Hub?

The Climate Finance Access Hub (CCFAH) was established by the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in 2015 and started operations in late 2016. Since its inception, it has rolled out its technical assistance programme in 14 Commonwealth member states (in SIDS and LDCs) in the Pacific, Africa and the Caribbean. There are 10 NCFAs in those countries and a number of others will have deployments in the next few months.

The programme has two broad mandates; the first is to help the Commonwealth member countries in reducing vulnerability to Climate Change and improve resilience and adaptation with institutional strengthening and capacity building. The second key mandate is to mobilise finance and enhance the flow of climate finance into the Commonwealth member countries: to turn climate action targets into climate actions.

The CCFAH is implementing both components of this mandate and helping the countries to build capacity through a number of activities: improving training in national officers in national institutions, helping countries strengthen policy frameworks and designing and implementing strategies for climate investment, climate finance and climate action. It’s about building the pipeline of projects in the countries.

The operational model of the CCFAH is to provide long term technical assistance. This is done through deployment of Commonwealth National Climate Finance Advisors (NCFAs) in government institutions. They are international experts in the area of climate change and are deployed and hosted in ministries to stay there and help the countries in a number of activities depending on their priorities. They carry out capacity building and develop the project pipeline.  

In terms of achievements over the last four years, there have major pieces of work to do with capacity building include designing and defining climate investment frameworks and climate investment finance strategies, whilst at the same time training more than 500 national officers from different ministries. We have been actively engaged in the design of a new set of policies and enhancing the scope of NDCs and designing NDC implementing finance strategies.

Numbers wise, we have a healthy pipeline of projects in all CCFAH countries. We have been able to mobilise US$ 34bn for mitigation and adaptation projects, mainly focusing on adaptation, and nearly US$ 600m in the pipeline.

Summing up, the CCFAH has two mandates – capacity strengthening and mobilising climate finance. The last 4 years has been a short amount of time, but we have been successful in making progress and helping the countries to come up with a number of viable and bankable projects.


In your view, what is the biggest challenge that small and vulnerable states face today?

There are a number of challenges, but the biggest in the climate area for small and vulnerable states is in having the limited capacity (both technical and institutional) to be able to realize the threats they are facing right now or the future threats coming. Secondly, there is limited capacity to then come up with the measures needed, especially regarding adaptation, so rise to the threats facing them.

Lack of capacity is the biggest challenge in the climate sphere – it’s a global challenged but the economic situation in these countries and their geographic situation makes them particularly vulnerable to climate change.

Associated with this is the lack of finance – many times, especially in climate induced disaster situations, countries are in the situation where they need technical assistance and finance to deal with the disaster situation. The capacity to manage this is limited and this leaves these countries to become more and more vulnerable. This, I believe, is the biggest challenge facing small and vulnerable states and so the CCFAH has been set up to counter this on a long-term sustainable basis.


IPP CommonSensing

What is your involvement with the CommonSensing project?

Firstly, I believe that IPP CommonSensing is an extremely important project and it is well designed for the context of SIDS, especially the three countries it is being implemented in (Fiji, Vanuatu and Solomon Islands). These nations are very vulnerable and so this project will play an instrumental role in building the capacity of island states to deal with the impacts of climate change using data and remote sensing. The climate finance element is key to this project and my involvement is from this angle. I manage the NCFAs on the ground that are working with a whole range of partners in the CommonSensing project. They take the valuable data and information (that is critical to designing viable and implementable projects in any country) to get access to that data and make use of it effectively.

The advisors will be filling the gap and taking credible information to help build their project activities and mobilising finance.

I have been very involved in designing different work programmes and especially on climate finance points that the Commonwealth has strengths in and taking that forward with partners. Now that we are at the implementing stage, I am further involved in technically advising and supervising the advisors on the ground to make sure data utilised in a way to make sure proposals come though and capacity is built. We want good project ideas and good proposals to succeed.


What are your views on the technology and data the project is creating and what it is trying to achieve?

Technology and data are intrinsic to climate action, and we are fortunate to have the opportunity in these three Commonwealth countries to have this CommonSensing facility. Not all countries are actively engaged in the implementation of this technology and using the data generated to achieve their aims.

We are looking at the role of the technology and data in climate debate too – understanding the impacts of climate change is all about understanding how the variables change. Progress can only be made in building resilience to a changing climate when are using data associated with those changing variables in decision making.

This project will provide extremely valuable data and technology which will be well utilized. Partners will be trained on how to use the technology and how to interpret the data to then build the resilience of the country on a long-term basis. It will be helpful for us to take this data and then to turn present it in a way where we can clearly see the impacts of climate change in different sectors of the economy.


Access to Funding

Why is it difficult for Small Island Developing States to access funding to tackle climate change?

Firstly, international climate finance infrastructure is complex and cumbersome. It has developed in a way that makes it extremely hard for SIDS to access this finance. Now, with the inadequate global provision of finance, getting funding is more and more competitive which translates into more complex processes of application. Funding proposals need to be designed to a high quality, not only meeting all the regulatory requirements of the funds but also presenting proposals that can compete with a huge number of other ideas and proposals.

Secondly, the existing capacity in SIDS means governments struggle to access it. Countries need technical assistance to design the proposals. SIDS have low national capacity because of the size and availability of personnel in the various ministries. Plus, adaptation is a key issue – the access to funding is complex in general anyway, but when we are looking at adaptation funding it gets even harder. Adaptation programmes are typically long term, cross cutting over the economy and need good financial support. So there are a complex set of requirements need to be met in order to access the finance - and the technical capacity to meet those is limited.

The combination of the complexity of the international climate finance system, then the additional competition and difficulty in seeking adaptation finance, then limited capacity on the ground to design proposals to access the finance – this makes the whole thing extremely difficult for SIDS.


Do you think the outcomes of the CommonSensing project will change that?

I do think the outcomes will make a significant change in Fiji, Vanuatu and Solomon Islands, especially regarding the availability of data and information – credible information – to demonstrate that the country is impacted by climate change. For instance, data can show how the sea level is changing and the impacts of coastal erosion, for instance. It can show how the agriculture sector is impacted over the years, how precipitation levels are changing which can lead to drought impacts in a range of economic subsectors. This extremely valuable data.

The capacity of the countries to have, collect and gather this data needs improving, and our role is to improve that capacity and knowledge base to convert this information and data into impacts on different sectors of the economies, then designing proposals to counter that. It’s a chain of a lot of positive impacts that the project can support in the countries. The outcomes are going to last for a long time – the country will gain capacity on the ground then have the capacity to assess and evaluate the climate impacts on a long-term basis.

The CommonSensing project will make a significant contribution to building resilience and though the challenges are and significant, a long term sustained engagement is needed after the project has closed. The Climate Finance Access Hub (CCFAH) is trying to address this and to make sure the impacts are sustained beyond the life of the project.


Why is it important for Small Island Developing States to be able to access climate change funding, and what will it be used for?

It is important because SIDS don’t have the necessary fiscal space to deal with the gravity of climate change by themselves. The need to fill the capacity, technological, and financial gaps is pressing so that governments can come up with long term measures and projects to advocate for the needs of their people and national institutions by taking different programmes and proposals forward. Funding is everything – without adequate funding it becomes almost impossible to carry measures forward.

When we look at the amount of funding needed, we see that there are huge gaps in the availability of the funding. Regarding adaptation measures, studies are showing for SIDS there is about a US$ 300bn shortfall of funding per year. A huge amount of funding is needed and that isn’t available right now. The countries need reliability in the provision of climate finance to know that they can translate what they want to do into action, build capacity and adapt to impacts.

For SIDS, the funding will be almost entirely for adaptation measures and that is where it should be used. For example, the scope for cutting greenhouse gases (GHGs) is limited and these countries are negligible producers of GHGs. These countries are taking proactive measures in mitigation anyway and SIDS have made commitments on expanding renewables, greening the transport sector etc., and becoming more sustainable. However, I believe a large amount of the funding will be used for building capacity, training national institutions, educating their public on climate change and how to build resilience at the community level, then coming up with large scale adaptation measures which are very much needed.


Data for Development

What types of climate change data are readily available today for Small Island Developing States to access?

There are data challenges – not just for SIDS but also for larger developing states. It’s a constant challenge we face in designing and implementing projects. Talking specifically about SIDS with their unique features (being islands surrounded by water) they will be highly impacted by what happens with sea level rise, oceanic warming, precipitation data, and more. In most cases there is little data available in these countries, typically there is weather related data – which is important for early warning systems for instance – but when we look into long term data (e.g. historic and repeated through to today) to make projections and modelling, the data is more scarce. Most of the data is not originating in the SIDS but big international entities and organisations are collecting the data and making it available to these countries and partners on request.

Countries want to have this data and technical capacity to collect and use it first-hand.

Is this data generally reliable, unbiased and does it provide enough historical content to be able to make well-informed decisions?

Before we consider reliability of the data, the challenge is the availability of the data. That itself is huge challenge. Where the data is available the reliability and credibility is often a big challenge too.

Many entities are collecting the data for similar regions and sometimes the data cannot match together. In those cases, the country must verify and endorse the data or else establishing correct baselines etc., can be difficult.

Availability is a challenge, reliability is a challenge too, but getting continuity in the data can also be difficult. Continuity is important to make sure, for instance, that forecasting and making projections is done to a high quality. Without continuous historical data, making informed decisions can be challenging for governments.

What does access to up-to-date satellite data change in the availability of climate information today?

Its changes things tremendously. The climate information is all data driven and what we talk about are the different variables and parameters, like those defined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) where there are more than 150 different variables that all measure the impact of climate change. There are a lot of variables and so the availability of data to support those variables is a challenge.

It’s good that the technology like satellite and remote sensing is becoming more and more available and it’s a step forward for climate change and climate data. It makes the predictions more reliable and in terms of technology and data we are getting to the point where we can look at the impacts at a minute level. For instance, there is a growing wealth of historical weather data that can with reasonable accuracy show the impact on the agriculture sector fairly accurately.

This technology will become more available and will be a useful tool in the entire climate science and climate action space.

What impacts do you expect the availability of satellite data to have on the climate change debate over the next 10 years?

This will bring a lot more reliability and predictability into the decision-making process. It will give us a reasonably accurate impact study on different parts of the economies as climate impacts are expected to become more severe.


Climate Justice

While climate change affects people all over the world, indigenous peoples seem disproportionately vulnerable to its impacts. How do we ensure the developed world listens and acts appropriately to change the outlook for Small Island Developing States?

A good question! First of all, it is very much correct and proven now that climate change impacts are disproportionally impacting indigenous people. For a long period of time people were not considering the impact on indigenous people but it is now being taken into consideration. There are opportunities for indigenous peoples to voice their concerns and we see them at international forums, hearing their voices and airing their views.

In the international climate debate and discussion, the voices of indigenous people, especially from SIDS, are being accommodated to some extent. There is the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues which is becoming effective now and is now a well-established instrument and forum.

One good thing that has happened in the last 10-15 years is that the issue of climate has been considered and discussed in the realm of human rights and linking it to indigenous peoples’ rights. To some extent the debate is turning to a rights-based approach – where rights of different groups and peoples are being accommodated. We look at the Paris Agreement and there is a place for their rights and knowledge to be accommodated. A lot more work needs to be done, and more studies to understand and evaluate the impact on different indigenous groups in the face of climate change and development in general. Cultural values, land access, living systems, etc., have been threatened and focused and specialised studies on the climate and development impacts on indigenous people would be valuable to find appropriate measures to address those threats.

With rapid growth in the amount of data available and an unprecedented global desire for action now driving change like never before, how do international agencies balance nations’ cultural identity and traditional knowledge alongside technological solutions, to ensure that the concepts of historically informed stewardship and protection are not lost?

International agencies have a useful and big role to play, though they have not been extremely sensitive to theses issues so far. The developmental debate and action have traditionally not prized indigenous knowledge and so have been unable to benefit from the forms of natural resources stewardship often practiced by indigenous groups. This need to change. To some extent the shift is happening – international agencies are becoming more sensitive and partnering with a number of small community groups on the ground level to understand their concerns and values and to make sure their livelihoods and cultural identities are not being threatened.

We are only at the start here though – we have not fully understood the damage that might have been inflicted on indigenous people, on local cultural values and traditional knowledge. This needs to be understood much more profoundly before we move ahead and congratulate ourselves. When a new programme of action comes up through an international or regional agency, I think there should be specific component and requirement to make sure the intervention is not threatening local knowledge and indigenous rights. Conversely, it will actually be beneficial to study traditional knowledge and living systems in more of an in-depth manner to support new technological solutions.

The first step needs to be to develop our understanding of traditional knowledge in the regional, national or subnational context in which an intervention is planned, then to make sure we apply this to any climate programme as they are designed. This needs to be taken up in the international level too – it must be ensured that the interests of indigenous peoples are secured and represented.


CommonSensing Team

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