Nicola Sturgeon announced the world’s first fund committed to climate justice in 2012. At COP28 a few months ago, the world followed suit.

Humza Yousaf claimed the pioneering Scottish project had “sparked” the discussion at last year’s Dubai conference, which led to a $700 million agreement being reached for climate loss and damage payments globally. 

Despite being the first government in the world to fund climate reparations when it launched the Climate Justice Fund (CJF), Scotland does not publish a definitive list of how or where taxpayers’ money has been spent abroad.

Following a Freedom of Information request (FOI), The Herald can provide a unique insight into the scale of the fund and the projects that have benefited from Scotland’s world-leading scheme.

Since 2012, nearly £30 million has been spent by the Scottish Government on the Climate Justice Fund. This figure is set to rise substantially over the next few years as a new pledge from the First Minister means that going forward the fund will receive £9 million a year.

Our data reveals that more than half of the money spent so far has gone towards a single country which is one of the smallest in Africa – Malawi, known as the continent’s “warm heart”.

The Herald: Enifa Malembia of the Magoli community in MalawiEnifa Malembia of the Magoli community in Malawi (Image: SCIAF)

Malawi has received almost £17.5 million of the Scottish Government’s £30 million fund over the last 12 years.

The sum Malawi receives rises to more than £21 million when projects where it received funding jointly with other countries are included. 

SCIAF is one of the charities who have been awarded funding to work on projects in Malawi. Its biggest project was the Climate Challenge Programme Malawi, which it led from 2017 until 2022 at a cost of £4.7 million and in consortium with Trócaire, its sister agency, and seven local partners in Malawi.

The five-year project reached over 50,000 people in four of Malawi’s districts, providing access to safe and clean water, creating accessible back gardens where people can grow food amongst many other projects. Much of the focus was on developing sustainable approaches to agriculture for a population which relies heavily on subsistence farming – a dependency which is being threatened by increasing extreme weather events.

Ciara Commins, contract manager at SCIAF who worked in Malawi said the key difference she has noted between Climate Justice Fund projects and others which she has worked on in a decade in the charity sector is the community-led approach these projects have taken.

“The key difference with the Scottish Government as a government is they emphasise a community led approach. You find a lot of the communities out there actually have area development plans, vision plans, and it’s more about us working with that as opposed to coming up with our own agenda.

“What was different from all the other kind of funding we’ve had before is the ability to be community led, the ability to have time with the community and the talk to them about it. That really showed in the evaluation –  92% of people said it directly improved their lives,” Ms Commins told The Herald.

Before work began in Malawi there were extensive community consultations to hear from the people who know their home best, and a similar stage is now under way for another project in Rwanda for which SCIAF has secured £4.7 million from the Scottish Government to run until March 2025 called “Climate Just Communities”, focused on reaching the most marginalised people in areas vulnerable to climate change.

A big focus on the project was training farmers in agroecology, a form of sustainable farming which seeks to optimise local resources while minimising negative environmental impacts.

Working in partnership with the local people is also key, so they see the projects as their own rather than a Scottish charity flying across the world to implement a project it designed in Glasgow.

Lameck Nkhoma is from Malawi and works with Churches Action in Relief and Development (CARD), an NGO from the country which worked on relief projects from Tropical Storm Ana which hit in 2022, coordinated by the Climate Justice Relief Fund, a Washington-based NGO. The US charity received £1 million of the loss and damage funds the Scottish Government committed to at COP26 in Glasgow, and funnelled it out to community-driven projects like this.

Mr Nkhoma told The Herald that the funds aided the construction of a temporary shelter and buying iron sheets and other materials in the immediate aftermath of Storm Ana, as well as formatting plots for sustainable farming.

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“When we are hit by climate induced weather, so much damage is experienced. Most of the households collapse, lose their household items, most of the crops in the fields are washed away and all the electricity is cut off.

“Our government does not have the means to help in the time of emergencies, so it’s really tough to see how to help people,” says Mr Nkhoma, who praised the impact of the Scottish funding on his community.

So why is all this money going to Malawi in particular? The African country is long considered to have a special relationship with Scotland.

A historic co-operation agreement was signed by the governments of the two countries in 2005, the same year as the Scottish Malawi Partnership gained charitable status. 

Stuart Brown, CEO of Scotland Malawi Partnership, believes the foundations for the relationship date back to the missionary age of Dr David Livingstone, a Scottish doctor and missionary who was from Blantyre - the same name as the second largest city in Malawi. 

Mr Brown said: “There is a strong affinity between the people of the two nations, perhaps its a shared sense of humour and shared sense of humility - but the people just seem to hit it off.”

The Herald: Ben Wilson from SCIAF at work within the Magoli CommunityBen Wilson from SCIAF at work within the Magoli Community (Image: SCIAF)

Malawi has been hit by successive extreme weather events in recent years. Cyclone Idai hit in March 2019 and later that year Cyclone Kenneth. Then, Tropical Storm Ana hit on 24 January 2022, the relief for which was disrupted by Cyclone Gombe in March 2022. The following year saw Storm Freddy hit in March 2023, which was the most extreme of all.

This is a country in which around 80% of the population relies on rain-dependent subsistence farming in the context of erratic rain patterns due to global warming. 

The Scottish Government commissioned an independent evaluation of the CJF in 2021. The feedback was largely positive, with only some criticism for the number of short term projects focused on “low hanging fruit”, and also questioned whether all projects receiving funding were as focused on climate as they could be or rather a rebranding of traditional aid initiatives. 

The fund was highly praised, though, for its “on the ground impact”.

SCIAF, along with other charities, had been pushing the Scottish Government to take the ‘loss and damage’ approach it announced at COP26 in Glasgow.

Ben Wilson, Public Engagement Director at SCIAF, said of this position: “It was a big signal that the host government, even though they weren’t an independent country, took that step and became the first government in the world to ever commit funding for loss and damage.

The Herald: Mac and Tank outside Mphatso CBCC in MalawiMac and Tank outside Mphatso CBCC in Malawi (Image: SCIAF)

“It’s about rich countries accepting their culpability, their responsibility for the climate crisis. And that’s something others had been running away from for years. They didn’t want to go there because as soon as they are seen to admit culpability for it, they’re worried that will open the door for legal challenges from small island states who are suffering the most from climate change.”

Projects like the relief from Tropical Storm Ana which Mr Nkhoma was involved in are the most focused on the idea of loss and damage, going on the theory of Scotland repaying Malawi for its contributions to the causes of these cyclones as a rich country. It is important to look at the funding like reparations rather than charity, Mr Wilson tells The Herald.

Along with Malawi, Rwanda and Zambia are the countries which receive most from the fund, since they are some of the countries which suffer most from the climate crisis despite contributing among the least.

Moving forward with the Scottish Government having already committed millions, many charities and NGOs, including SCIAF, are focused on where the money is coming from for the fund.

They want to see it related to a tax on those contributing most to the climate crisis.

“In order to solve the injustice related to climate change, we need to really be making sure it’s the polluters who are paying for the damages they cause. So through the introduction of increased taxation, be that on fuel or on frequent flyers, and then using the money from that to fund loss and damage projects.

“It’s a two-pronged effect, driving down emissions and negative behaviours and helping us fund the damages being caused in countries like Malawi,” says Mr Wilson.