Reporting on climate finance? Don’t ask a banker, ask a farmer!

by Nicholas Phythian
Monday, 6 August 2018 10:04 GMT

Participants in our climate finance reporting workshop speak to a farmer in Vietnam. Photo: Belen Becerra / Thomson Reuters Foundation.

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Billions of dollars of taxpayers money are being spent on climate finance.

Trillions of dollars in public and private capital remain locked up in financial markets as the world’s financial community watches and waits to see if the new climate economy is a real investment opportunity.

This is a big story, however you look at it, and one that, on the face of it, requires an understanding of economics.

For Asian journalists attending the first Thomson Reuters Foundation workshop on climate finance, the key to acquiring a working knowledge of the topic was a pig - or rather tens of thousands of pigs that offer smallholder farmers across Vietnam a living.

The challenge is this!

Over the past 25 years, policy makers around the world have developed a tangle of national, regional and international funds to curb global warming and help communities adapt to its impact. “Each new fund,” according to the World Resources Institute, “responded to needs and gaps that existed at the time, but this has led to a rather complex system.”


The institute, a research organisation present in more than 50 countries, works with leaders and policy makers around the world to turn big ideas into action.

The journalists, who gathered in Hanoi from June 18-22 to untangle the complexities of the system, might like to contribute to that debate, but first they needed to find ways of interesting their readers, listeners or viewers - and their editors - in how that money is spent and who could or should benefit.

Vietnam is a major producer of pork, much of it produced by smallholder farmers. Where there are pigs, there’s waste, lots of smelly waste. Cleaning it can be time-consuming, particularly for smallholders raising a handful of pigs next to the family home, but where there’s muck there’s money.

Dutch development agency SNV and other donors have found a way of providing the farmers with biogas from the waste for cooking and organic fertiliser for their gardens and fields.

Vietnam’s biogas digester programme is based on an idea developed in China. It means farmers don't need firewood for cooking and saves trees, which store CO2 that would otherwise add to the layer of Greenhouse Gases that is trapping heat and warming the planet. It also reduces the use of nitrates as fertiliser, which produces nitrous oxide, an even more powerful Greenhouse Gas.

“"The biogas digester has helped save a lot of my time, money, and labour in farming pigs,” farmer Nguyen Quoc Trang, 35, told Vietnamese workshop participant Vu Phuong. “Before having the digester, the pig farm smelled a lot. I and my wife had to clean the waste twice a day. It was a very hard work.”


That wasn’t all. The project also helped masons and installers of plastic digesters become entrepreneurs and start small businesses. “We make the mason to be not only the builder but the seller as well,” Nguyen Thu Ha, adviser on renewable energy at SNV, said. “We make them the actors in the supply chain.”

Together, SNV, the masons and installers and various partners at different stages of the programme, have provided 170,000 farming families across Vietnam with digesters.

The project illustrates how a mixture of bilateral loans, private money and emerging carbon markets combine to make this possible.

The journalists toured smallholdings, talked to farmers and installers and used this model to navigate their way through the labyrinth that is climate finance. They then applied their knowledge to other scenarios.

Carbon markets, an attempt by the international community to put a price on CO2, the main greenhouse gas causing global warming, have yet to prove their worth. Vietnam has said it plans to set up one. China unveiled plans in December for what will become the world’s largest.

In the meantime, scientists working with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change join government leaders at a UN climate summit in Poland in December to tell the world whether it is doing enough to head off catastrophic climate change.

Journalist and academic Miren Gutierrez developed and delivered the workshop with journalism trainer Nicholas Phythian. The participants came from Bangladesh, China (Hong Kong), India, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam.

As part of the programme, each participant undertook to produce and publish at least one story on climate finance.

Hopefully the UN summit, the 24th COP or Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, will give them an opportunity to produce a lot more.