Interview with Clara Gallagher, Research Officer at the Commonwealth Secretariat
Can you give us an insight into the work The Commonwealth Secretariat does?
The Commonwealth is a voluntary association of 54 countries, spanning five geographical regions, with a combined population of 2.4 billion. Members work together with the overarching aim of promoting prosperity, democracy and peace, to amplify the voice of small states, and to protect the environment. The Commonwealth Secretariat coordinates this activity as an intergovernmental organisation.
There are three main strands to the Commonwealth Secretariat’s work: Governance and Peace; Trade, Oceans and Natural Resources; and Economic, Youth and Sustainable Development (EYSD). The Climate Change Section is in EYSD.
We assist member countries to pursue more inclusive, low-carbon and climate-resilient economic growth. The Climate Change Programme focuses on strengthening the resilience of Commonwealth member states to the negative impacts of climate change, as well as enhance the capacity of member countries to access climate finance for climate change mitigation and adaptation.
The main part of this work is delivered through the Commonwealth Climate Finance Access Hub which positions Commonwealth National Climate Finance Advisers in member countries to provide long-term in-country technical assistance and capacity building. This enables Commonwealth member states to improve their ability to access climate finance to implement their national climate plans (called Nationally Determined Contributions, NDCs) under the Paris Agreement, as well as pursue the medium-term institutional and capacity development that is needed to gain increased access to climate funds more regularly in the future. The Hub can help countries access finance at scale and speed by drawing on knowledge from around the Commonwealth to support a particular development.
What has been your involvement in the IPP Common Sensing project?
The Commonwealth Secretariat manages the Climate Finance components of the CommonSensing project, given our experience and expertise in this area. In Fiji, Vanuatu and Solomon Islands we have Commonwealth National Climate Finance Advisers (CNCFAs) providing technical assistance and capacity building to partner governments on how to improve their access to climate finance.
In all of this, I facilitate the day-to-day programme management of the project which involves planning budgets, reporting progress to the Consortium, and producing communications materials. However, I still get to draw on my own experience working on climate finance issues in the Government of a Least Developed Country when drafting some of our technical written outputs, like a forthcoming Discussion Paper on the uses of Earth Observation and Satellite Remote Sensing for Climate Finance. Recently, I have been working with the CNCFA to Fiji and other consortium partners from Catapult and UNITAR to make sure that the tools in the CommonSensing platform are as useful as possible for the kinds of applications we make in a climate finance context.
I spend a lot of time coordinating between the Commonwealth Climate Finance Access Hub, the High Commissions and Embassies of partner countries and the CommonSensing Consortium partners. It is important to make sure everyone is on the same page when there are so many moving parts to this project and it has been good to meet people from across a range of disciplines.
There has been a significant and welcome rise in activities addressing climate effects in recent years. Why do you think the work Common Sensing is doing, in particular, is important?
It is crystal clear that the impacts of climate change are already being felt in Small Island Developing States (SIDS), and we have seen this in the CommonSensing partner countries as Tropical Cyclones Harold, Yasa and Ana tore through the Pacific in April 2020, December 2020 and January 2021. Activities to address the impacts of climate change are increasing but still not at the pace needed to allow Governments to protect their people, cultures and economies from climate-induced damage. It’s striking that between 2017 and 2018, public finance globally was mainly channelled into mitigation projects (66% of the total) even though adaptation is typically the priority of SIDS and developing countries. Within this smaller pool of funding for adaptation actions, in 2017–18 only an estimated 20.5% of bilateral climate finance went to least developed countries and 3% to SIDS.[i] These are the countries that most need regular additional finance to combat climate change, yet the funds aren’t getting to those most in need.
To me, these statistics completely underscore the importance of the CommonSensing project: SIDS and developing countries struggle to access climate finance for many reasons but the lack of baseline data to demonstrate climate impacts is one reason that is referenced by the major climate funds fairly regularly – that the so-called ‘climate rationale’ for the project isn’t strong enough. This is where the CommonSensing project can really help provide that baseline data.
Using data to inform decision-making is at the heart of the IPP Common Sensing project. How have you seen the climate finance world adapt to this new way of using Earth Observation data to improve the rationale for projects which contribute to climate resilience in SIDS?
The use of EO/SRS data in the process of planning a climate finance application, to strengthen baselines, and in providing more evidence for the ‘climate rationale’ of a project is still at a stage of relative infancy in low income and climate-vulnerable countries.
There is little guidance from the major climate funds on how it can be beneficial and how to use these tools in this new and impactful way. The Global Environment Facility (GEF) is leading the way amongst the major funds through initiating the ‘Earth Observation and the GEF’ paper which describes where they see the benefits of remote sensing in a climate finance context.
Commonwealth Secretariat has been trying to fill this knowledge gap through a Discussion Paper (forthcoming) on where EO/SRS tools can be used to improve climate finance proposals. We analysed climate finance applications to see where EO data can be readily applied, how it could support national strategies for economic recovery in the wake of COVID-19, and where more intensive efforts to build capacities to use this data might be valuable.
We hope that we can enhance the conversation across the Commonwealth on how these tools can be used proactively to access climate finance, not just to aid decision making when reacting to disasters.
What do you hope to see as a result of the IPP Common Sensing project?
I hope that the CommonSensing project enables partner countries to access climate finance faster and on better terms so that they can fund their priorities and build resilience against climate change. With improved data to calculate baselines and show the impacts of climate change over time, I hope that Governments can develop climate finance proposals that meet the requirements of the climate funds in terms of evidence and justification. This enables projects to go from the stages of concept to proposal, to funds awarded much faster without having so many iterations between the funding institutions and the Government.
[i] Carty, T, Kowalzig, J, Zagema, B (2020) ‘Climate Finance Shadow Report 2020: Assessing progress towards the $100 billion commitment’ Oxfam https://www.oxfam.org/en/research/climate-finance-shadow-report-2020