France makes idle promises on development aid

François Hollande [Matthieu Riegler/Flickr]

François Hollande announced a €4 billion increase to the French development budget in 2020, but has been criticised by NGOs for failing to tackle climate change. EURACTIV France reports

As Annick Girardin, the French Minister of State for Development, suggested to EURACTIV last week, France used the United Nations General Assembly in New York this weekend to announce an increase to its development aid budget. François Hollande promised an extra €4 billion from 2020.

But this commitment is anything but concrete. With the presidential elections in 2017, it is impossible to say with any certainty who will be leading the country in five years’ time.

At the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit (25 to 27 September), François Hollande announced that “France has decided to increase its official development assistance (ODA) to release an extra €4 billion from 2020.” This summit saw the adoption by the UN of the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a set of common objectives to fight economic and social inequality in the world.

The French president gave no details on how this sum would be shared out between the fight against climate change and efforts to eradicate poverty.

France had announced the merger of the French Development Agency (AFD) and the public financing group Caisse des Dépôts (CDC) at the annual Ambassadors’ Week meeting in Paris in August. This move was designed to pave the way for a restructuring of the development budget.

>>Read: French development aid reform to generate ‘substantial’ new funds

Disappointment from NGOs

The announcement was immediately criticised by NGOs, which had expected something more concrete. Nicolas Vercken, Oxfam France’s lead advocate for humanitarian issues, said, “François Hollande’s declaration is unclear: his mandate ends in 2017, and up to now the pattern [of aid funding] has been the opposite.”

Budget cuts have hit French ODA up to ten times harder than the country’s other budgets. Since 2012, ODA has collapsed to 0.36% of gross national income (GNI), leaving France further than ever from its 0.7% target.

Just days before Hollande is due to announce the 2016 budget, Oxfam has called for additional development funds and warned against “trying to dress up loans as grants, which has become a bad habit for France”.

But the structure of French financing appears to be geared towards loans, rather than donations. The objective behind the AFD and CDC merger was to increase the country’s development financing capacity, with the emphasis on loans.

The NGO WWF also criticised the French executive.

“Though leaders often mention the COP 21, these announcements do not meet the urgency of action required. France announced that it would mobilise an extra €4 billion from 2020, but did not specify the share that would be dedicated to adaptation and emissions reduction, or whether this aid would take the form of loans or grants,” said Pierre Cannet, WWF’s climate programme leader.

With an annual expenditure of around €8 billion (0.36% of GNI), the French aid budget remains a long way from the objective of 0.7% of GNI agreed by many developed countries.

>> Infographic: What are the SDGs about?

Negotiations on climate change began in 1992, and the UN organises an annual international climate change conference called the Conference of the Parties, or COP.

Paris is hosting the all-important 21st conference in December 2015. The participating states must reach an agreement to replace the Kyoto Protocol, the object of which was to reduce CO2 emissions between 2008 and 2012.

Reaching an agreement, whether legally binding or not, is the priority between now and December.

The Green Climate Fund was created during the climate conference in Durban (South Africa) in 2011. The objective for developed countries was to raise $100 billion a year by 2020.

An initial capitalisation objective has been fixed at $15 billion for the next three years. This money will be used to help poorer countries to limit their greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to the effects of climate change, but it will only go some way towards covering greenhouse gas reduction targets.

The global cost of cutting emissions to sustainable levels is estimated at between €500 and €1,500 billion per year. 

  • 25-27 September 2015: 70th United Nations General Assembly - New York
  • December 2015: 21st yearly session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 21) - Paris Climate Conference 2015

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