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Analysis of international data by academics shows donors are overstating aid for poor countries to tackle climate change, highlighting the need for new guidelines to measure whether rich countries are keeping their promises.

A love movie festival in Belgium, uniforms for park guards in Central America, tobacco control, earthquake safety and an activity entitled “savannah elephant vocalisation” are just a few of the projects questionably defined as climate-related aid in an international database.

New research by Katharina and Axel Michaelowa of the University of Zurich found that around one-third of all projects given the “Rio Marker” for climate change mitigation – signalling they are activities that help developing countries reduce their greenhouse emissions – in the PLAID (Project-Level Aid) database between 1995 and 2007 had no relevance to climate.

Similarly, nearly three quarters of projects given the “Rio Marker” did not qualify as mitigation efforts, the research showed.

“There appear to be too many errors for (the over-coding) to be purely random,” Katharina Michaelowa told a conference on aid transparency and development finance in Oxford this week. “Some is related to misunderstandings, but some may also be related politico-economic factors.”

Michaelowa said over-coding is more likely to happen in countries where people value environmental objectives, where they are less well-informed about climate issues, and where bureaucratic quality is low. But it is less likely where a government favours ecological policies, the study suggests.

In a separate analysis carried out by researchers at Brown University and the College of William and Mary, both based in the United States, as many as 70 percent of projects given the climate Rio Marker by major donors between 2000 and 2006 were judged to have no beneficial impact for climate change.

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