Corruption is a major global problem that has a direct
impact on efforts to manage the world’s resources and combat climate change.
Countries in South Asia, northern Africa, Madagascar, Mozambique and Zimbabwe
are among the most corrupt places in the world. Other countries are by no means
exempt as corruption is pervasive around the world.
According to a Transparency International report titled Global Corruption Report: Climate Change, risks exist in political decision-making, climate finance
and the management of public funds. As stated in the report, “Where
huge amounts of money flow through new and untested financial markets and
mechanisms, there is always a risk of corruption.” The report further indicates
that total global climate change investments will reach almost $700 billion by
The countries that are most vulnerable to climate change tend to be the most
corrupt. The TI report on global corruption and climate change ranks nations
according to their corruption risk, where zero is extremely corrupt and 10 is
“very clean.” Not even one of the 20 countries most affected by climate change
scored higher than 3.5.
A lack of government transparency is correlated with a country’s failure to
provide clean water. Half of the 20 nations with the worst record in TI’s Corruption Perceptions Index
are located in sub-Saharan Africa, where 63 percent of the population lacks
basic sanitation facilities, according to the U.N. Economic Commission for Africa
In an article by Radio Netherlands Worldwide,
Lisa Elges from Transparency International cites an example of corruption in
North African solar panels:
“We’ve studied the installation of solar panels in North Africa and found
that weak governments, bureaucracy and corruption could inflate investment costs
by 20 percent. The project was supposed to cost 400 billion dollars up to its
completion in 2050. However, with the 20 percent inflation every year, it will
cost 1600 billions dollars by 2025!”
The same article also quotes Dutch climate envoy Hugo von Meijenfeldt, who
confirms the existence of corruption:
“I work closely with corruption fighting experts and embassies, and I require
full reports from them. Yes, we’ve had to reclaim our funds in some instances
where they went into the pockets of dignitaries rather than in the irrigation
As indicated by the TI report, carbon markets have been fraught with
fraudulent activity. The European Union’s $134 billion emissions trading scheme
has seen the re-sale of used carbon offsets, hacking, theft and continuing
value-added tax fraud.
The U.N.’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) has been criticized because of
its lack of transparency and its inability to deliver additional emissions cuts.
The project developers responsible for helping poorer nations reduce their
emissions under the CDM have also been subject to criticisms for exploiting the
“Creative accounting can lead to the double counting of emissions by
companies of their own reported mitigation efforts, (…), thus nullifying the
environmental integrity of the emissions reductions,” the TI report said. “It is
imperative that these lessons be considered in establishing new markets, and
used to improve and reform the existing mechanisms.”
The TI report also singled out the forestry sector as
particularly vulnerable to corruption due to high international demand for
timber, weak land ownership rights and marginalized indigenous communities.
According to World Bank estimates, each year, between $10 billion and $23 billion
worth of timber is harvested illegally or comes from suspicious origins. The TI
report indicated that this will have to be dealt with before the U.N. forest
preservation scheme known as REDD (Reducing Emissions from
Deforestation and Forest Degradation) gets the $28 billion a year funding it is expecting
as of 2013.
Corruption is undermining efforts to bring water to billions of people around
the world suffering from scarce water resources. Corruption from petty bribes to
corporate manipulation of public water services has slowed progress in solving
the world’s water problems. As reported in ENN, Gerard Payen, director of the Aquafed
industry group said:
“Corruption increases costs and reduces efficiency and this is a reason why
private operators are strongly motivated to overcome
The same article cites a World Bank estimate that suggests 20-40 percent of
water sector finances were lost to corruption. “That would mean a projected loss
of about $20 billion from needed investments in sub-Saharan Africa over the
According to the 2008 Global Corruption Report from TI,
when added up, corruption raises the price for water services between 10 and 30
percent worldwide each year. Based on the worst-case scenario, corruption could
raise the cost of improving water supply by $48 billion.
A prime example of widely publicized corruption involves Africa’s
multi-billion dollar water transfer effort, known as the Lesotho Highlands Water
Project. The plan was to supply water to the industrial heartland of South
Africa and to generate energy for impoverished Lesotho. The project also
presented water officials with opportunities to increase their personal wealth.
In 2002, Lesotho courts sentenced the project’s chief executive to prison for
accepting bribes from 18 multinational companies that were vying for
“Corruption in water can lead to skewed and inequitable water resources
allocation, to uncontrolled and illegal pollution, to groundwater
over-extraction, and to degraded ecosystems. In many cases, these impacts in
turn result in reduced resilience and adaptability to the impacts of climate
In China, water is also a serious problem and so is corruption. In 2006, ENN reported that Zhou Shengxian, director
of China’s State Environmental Protection Administration, blamed corruption for
frustrating environmental protection efforts and worsening the country’s already
severely polluted air and waterways, Xinhua News Agency reported.
Zhou said in a report to China’s legislature that some local government
leaders directly interfere in environmental law enforcement by threatening to
remove, demote and retaliate against environmental officials, Xinhua said. “The
failure to abide by the law, lax law enforcement, and allowing lawbreakers to go
free are still serious problems in many places,” Zhou was quoted as saying.
As reported in ENN, the U.S. also has its
own environmental corruption. In one well documented example from 2007, the Center for Biological Diversity
led litigation to protect six endangered species from Montana to Alabama. These
lawsuits charged high level Bush administration officials with political
interference after they stripped protections for 55 endangered species and 8.7
million acres of land.
Before Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Interior Julie MacDonald was forced
to resign in 2007, she ignored the recommendations of U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service biologists and slashed critical habitat proposals.
These events prompted Michael Senatore, senior counsel for the Center for
Biological Diversity to say, “The depth of corruption within the Department of
the Interior goes way beyond Julie MacDonald and eight decisions. It impacts
hundreds of endangered species and millions of acres of wetlands and wildlife
Corruption adds dramatically to the costs of protecting the environment, and
increased costs slow the adoption rate of low carbon technologies. It is
abundantly apparent that we will need more transparency, oversight and
governance. At a time when governments are stretched beyond their fiscal limits,
we cannot allow graft to undermine environmental protection.
Source: Global Warming is Real