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Oversight & Climate Change

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Building a strong legal framework is only effective if the laws that are passed are sufficiently funded and adequately implemented.  Through its oversight functions, parliament can hold the executive accountable for its actions and can ensure that it implements policies in accordance with the legislation and budget it has passed. 

In theory, oversight on climate change is not all that different from oversight on any other issue.  In practice however, the demands and complexities of oversight and budgeting on climate change come with some noteworthy challenges.  They also take on increased importance in the face of the urgent need for bigger budgets and improved implementation capacities.  This section outlines some key issues legislators should be aware of and reviews some mechanisms that can help strengthen a parliament’s oversight capacities on climate change. 

1. Monitoring the implementation of climate change legislation

The first step towards effective oversight on climate change is the development of clear guidelines, targets and indicators by which to evaluate the implementation of laws and regulations.  These should be set out during the legislative drafting process, and should be designed with a view to preparing clear, accessible reports and assessments.

The benefits of developing flagship legislation  for oversight purposes are clear.  An overarching, national ‘climate law’ identifies the main targets or objectives to be reached and serves as a legal climate umbrella, giving government departments, parliamentarians, and local actors a good sense of how progress will eventually be measured.  Setting national targets for renewable energy development or carbon emissions, for example, allows parliamentarians to see quite quickly whether  implementation is on the right track; from there, they can dig a little deeper and see whether further amendments, more funding or improved implementation is required. 

Secondly, oversight procedures can be facilitated by the introduction of reporting provisions into climate change legislation.  A common barrier to effective oversight is the lack of data and reports for parliamentarians to work with.  Without the necessary information coming through from government departments, the auditor-general and other relevant bodies, proper oversight is virtually impossible.  By legally enshrining a ministry or department’s obligation to report on a regular basis, parliamentarians are much more likely to receive the information they need in time to carry out their oversight functions.  Doing so also provides additional grounds for calling ministers and department heads to account when reports fail to come through. 

Finally, where climate change is being ‘mainstreamed’ across a range of sectors and departments, effective oversight requires considerable coordination.  The responsible parliamentary committee needs to monitor the government department responsible for climate change, but also the relevant budget lines and activities housed in other departments.  Most notably this will include departments of energy, infrastructure and planning or agriculture and economics, but as climate change is mainstreamed into more and more fields, virtually all departments will have some activities aimed at tackling climate change and building resilience.

UK Committee on Climate Change

The Committee on Climate Change (the CCC) is an independent, statutory body established under theClimate Change Act 2008. Its purpose is to advise the UK Government and Devolved Administrations on emissions targets and report to Parliament on progress made in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and preparing for climate change.

In fulfilling this role, the Committee’s focus is to:

  • Provide independent advice to Government on setting and meeting carbon budgets and preparing for climate change.
  • Monitor progress in reducing emissions and achieving carbon budgets
  • Conduct independent analysis into climate change science, economics and policy
  • Engage with a wide range of organisations and individuals to share evidence and analysis

Parliamentary Action: Entry Points for Parliamentarians

Individual parliamentarians have a range of oversight tools at their disposal.  Drawing on their representative function, parliamentarians can convene relevant stakeholders to learn their perspectives on the implementation of law(s) and funding by the government. These are the people who are directly impacted by the government’s actions and who will know what is happening ‘on the ground’. Parliamentarians can consult with them, either as a multilateral group or bilaterally, on a regular basis. 

Where relevant, parliaments can organise field visits to witness first hand if and how the initiatives are being managed, and what further legislative action or funding might be required to facilitate implementation.  

Beyond this, most parliaments organise a ‘question time’ that offers parliamentarians the opportunity to put questions to government ministers and officials.  Based on information gathered from consultations or research conducted by the parliamentarians or their staff, a question (or, if allowed, a series of questions) can be developed in writing or orally, that will require the minister to state the government’s position for the record, the media, and the public.  If the question is timely or the answer is politically controversial, the parliamentarian may garner media attention that can further promote reforms to current laws, funding, or issues of implementation.

Parliamentary Questions on Renewable Energy: Morocco

In the framework fo the Parliamentary Action on Renewable Energy (PARE) project, the Climate Parliament’s Moroccan Members of Parliament drafted 25 parliamentary questions, thirteen of which were subsequently raised by MPs in plenary sessions of the National Assembly and meetings of the Energy and Environment committees.  

The questions focussed on several areas, including the ability of the Moroccan Government to reach its target of a 42% share for renewables in the energy mix by 2020; the progress of the Ouarzazate concentrated solar power plant, Morocco's flagship renewable energy facility; future budget allocations for renewable energy; efforts to make the Moroccan Renewable Energy Agency more proactive; and others.

Last but not least, parliamentarians can carry out their oversight tasks through participation in committee hearings.  Many parliaments provide specific rules for a committee to request and receive documentation, or to require a minister or senior government official to testify and answer questions.   A parliamentarian who is a member of a committee with jurisdiction over a subject related to climate change should encourage that committee to hold hearings and conduct regular investigations into the actions of the government.  This provides important insights into the government’s ability to effectively implement current law(s) and properly allocate funding from the state budget.

2. Monitoring climate change budgets 

Budget oversight is traditionally the prerogative of the parliament’s Budget and Finance or Public Account Committee, who can engage the support of an independent Auditor-General where greater detail as to the costs and expenditures is required.  Sectoral committees may also contribute to oversight of their specific sectors.  

Where climate change is concerned, parliamentary oversight of the budget draws on many of the challenges and mechanisms mentioned above.  Clear targets, a transparent flow of information and strong coordination are all important requirements for effective monitoring of government spending.  A notable additional challenge, however, is the source of the funding earmarked for climate change activities.  In many countries a great deal of climate change related activities – in particular with regard to energy and adaptation – is supported by external funds that may not always pass through parliament. Financial injections from aid agencies, private donors and companies (among others through Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives), development actors and international organizations make up a sizeable chunk of climate change funding.  This presents parliaments with two important additional challenges. 

Firstly, while such funding is much needed, it often does not constitute a reliable revenue stream.  Foreign aid may be delayed beyond the control of the relevant department or agency, leading to implementation delays and failures; large one-off contributions may skew annual budgets and lead to spending inefficiencies; and multi-year programmes may be cancelled or extended.  It is extremely difficult for governments to develop medium to long-term plans with such uncertainties regarding available revenues.  Parliaments, similarly, will need to take such circumstances into account when assessing government spending and implementation progress. 

Secondly, government departments may engage with these donors on a bilateral basis, and such arrangements do not always leave sufficient room for effective and transparent parliamentary oversight of these funds.  Many countries have seen the creation of ‘committees’ and ‘programmes’ on climate change, some of which are generously funded but many of which seem to fall outside of parliament’s scope of action.  Where funding is disbursed to such programmes directly, reports tend to be directed to the respective donor or development partner, not to the government and, by extension, parliament. 

This does not mean that these initiatives are not valuable, or that such programmes are poorly implemented or insufficiently monitored.  However, even where such funds are put to much-needed use, it is important that parliament is engaged or at least informed of relevant work plans, spending and implementation.  Parliaments are only able to develop and enact effective, longer-term policy frameworks on climate change if they have all the information; this means that they need to be accepted as key stakeholders in these processes.  ‘Independent’ initiatives funded by foreign funds should be tailored to strengthen, not weaken, parliament’s law-making, representation and oversight functions.

Mainstreaming climate change into national plans and policies: Kiribati

There are various committees and bodies with some designated responsibility for climate change.  In addition to the Parliamentary Select Committee on Climate, there is a National Policy Unit in the Office of the President, an Environment and Conservation Division in the Ministry of Environment, Lands and Agricultural Development, and a range of sectoral committees.  Kiribati’s Development Plan also has its own institutional framework to oversee implementation.  

To improve coordination of donor activities and funds, and to streamline implementation, there are plans to centralise donor funding through the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development (MFED). For more information, please click here.  

Some aid agencies and development partners have identified robust oversight and transparency of budgetary processes as a key requirement for receiving climate finance.   The European Commission , for example, lists a stable macro-economic framework, a public finance reform process and clear and transparent budget processes among its key criteria for climate finance support.  This is not the case for all donors or investors, however.  To improve transparency, strengthen accountability and avoid misuse of valuable funds, parliament’s oversight prerogatives and capacities should be strengthened where possible. 

3. Budgeting for climate change

Effective oversight is not only important for ensuring transparent and cost-effective spending, it is also crucial to obtaining much-needed climate funding.  The World Bank estimates that up to USD 100 billion of climate adaptation funding will be needed throughout the next 40 years in developing countries alone.  Successful climate change mitigation, drawing on various forms of carbon pricing and renewable energy development, is projected to cost considerably more still.  Public budgets cannot cover such costs alone, meaning that private investment is necessary to move forward.  Successfully securing funding, however, will require more transparent, stable investment frameworks for the private sector to engage with.

Parliamentarians can facilitate private sector involvement by removing red tape and strengthening policies and regulations that encourage and protect such involvement.  Effective parliamentary oversight, however, is just as critical: private investors will only be attracted by improved legal frameworks and regulations if they trust that these measures will actually be put in place, and that the protections they are offered are guaranteed.  As such, parliaments can play a pivotal role in ‘de-risking’ investments – not only by building better policy frameworks, but by stepping up their oversight functions and protecting the rights and regulations they endorse.

De-Risking Renewable Energy Investment

The transformational benefits of a concerted programme to introduce and implement de-risking instruments worldwide would be enormous, potentially unlocking billions of dollars of private investment, mitigating millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide per year, and – through lowering the absolute costs of carbon abatement – enhancing the cost-effectiveness of complementary performance-based payment mechanisms such as those that may operate through NAMAs and the Green Climate Fund.

This report describes an innovative framework to support policymakers in quantitatively comparing the impact of different public instrument packages to scale-up renewable energy in developing countries. The report presents findings from case studies in four illustrative countries, and draws on these results to discuss possible directions for enhancing public interventions to promote renewable energy investment.

To access the full report, please click here.  

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change  notes that “Among developing and some least developed countries, an emerging trend is the establishment of national funding entities dedicated to climate change.  While diverse in design and objectives, they tap and blend international and national sources of finance, thereby helping to improve policy coherence and address aid fragmentation.”   While such funding entities may certainly prove valuable and efficient – at this point it is too soon to tell – it is important that they are open to parliamentary inputs and do not hinder the institution’s critical oversight tasks. 

Finally, many international organisations and grant-making organisations provide financial support for climate change action.  The Global Environment Facility (GEF) and the Climate Investment Funds (CIF) are two of many initiatives that governments may want to turn to.  For more information on climate funding and financial instruments, please visit the Additional Resources  page. 
 

The Global Environment Facility (GEF)

The Global Environment Facility is a partnership for international cooperation where 183 countries work together with international institutions, civil society organizations and the private sector, to address global environmental issues. 

Since 1991, the GEF has provided $12.5 billion in grants and leveraged $58 billion in co-financing for 3,690 projects in 165 developing countries. For 23 years, developed and developing countries alike have provided these funds to support activities related to biodiversity, climate change, international waters, land degradation, and chemicals and waste in the context of development projects and programs.

Through its Small Grants Programme (SGP) the GEF has made more than 20,000 grants to civil society and community based organizations for a total of $1 billion.

Climate Investment Funds

The Climate Investment Funds (CIF) provides 48 developing and middle income countries with urgently needed resources to mitigate and manage the challenges of climate change and reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.

Since 2008, the CIF champions innovative country-led investments in clean technology, renewable energy, sustainable management of forests, and climate-resilient development. Fourteen contributor countries have pledged a total of $8 billion to the CIF, which is expected to leverage an additional $55 billion from other sources.