The World Health Organization headquarters in Geneva. Photo by: WHO / P. Virot

Brazil cancels plans to host the 2019 climate conference, the World Health Organization begins clinical trials for Ebola treatments, and questions about climate finance growth continue. This week in development:

Ahead of World AIDS Day, the U.S. Congress has agreed to reauthorize the government’s flagship HIV initiative for another five years, from 2018 to 2023. The PEPFAR Extension Act of 2018, passed by the Senate late Wednesday night, awaits President Donald Trump’s signature to become law. Reauthorization represents something of a formality for an initiative that continues to garner broad bipartisan support, and which lawmakers have consistently funded since its creation in 2003. Still, it marks another show of support — particularly considering that this reauthorization effort managed to proceed without any hot-button amendments that have turned past authorization discussions into political battles. On Thursday, Vice President Mike Pence announced a new $100 million effort within PEPFAR to expand engagement with faith-based organizations in HIV prevention and treatment efforts. Devex has previously reported on the Trump administration’s emphasis on directing money to faith-based groups, even as it repeatedly proposes $1 billion cuts to the initiative in its annual budget requests.

Brazil, under the new administration of President Jair Bolsonaro, has backed out of plans to host the international climate change conference — COP25 — in 2019. Bolsonaro is a far-right former army captain, who has cast doubt on the science of climate change, threatened to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement, and pledged to open the Amazon rainforest to further mining and agricultural development. The government’s announcement on Wednesday came just days before the start of COP24 in Katowice, Poland. In addition to casting the logistics of the next climate conference into doubt, Bolsonaro’s announcement also deepens worries about the role Brazil will play under his leadership. The climate negotiations have likely lost an “important broker role” that Brazil formerly occupied, said Fernanda Carvalho, policy manager for climate and energy at the WWF International. The Polish hosts of COP24 have also sent some inauspicious signals about the tone this conference will set. On Tuesday, the European Union’s largest producer of coking coal — Poland’s state-owned JSW — announced their sponsorship of the forthcoming climate conference, prompting concerned statements from civil society groups who fear fossil fuel interference in the critical negotiations.

The OECD reported Thursday that overall public climate finance to developing countries rose from $48.5 billion in 2016 to $56.7 billion in 2017. The increase was mostly attributable to more multilateral finance, with bilateral spending falling slightly. Developed countries have committed to providing $100 billion in climate finance by 2020. The terms of that agreement — and the basic definition of “climate finance” — are poised to be a major topic of discussion at the climate talks in Poland. The OECD’s figures include significant amounts of loans, as well as export credits. Developing countries have argued that the accounting rules around climate finance are too loose and vague, and lack transparency; and they have questioned the OECD’s projections. On Wednesday, Germany’s foreign minister announced that the country will double its contribution to the Green Climate Fund, with an additional pledge of $850 million over the next two years.

The World Health Organization and partners have agreed to evaluate the safety and effectiveness of four of the leading experimental Ebola drugs currently used in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The drugs have been deployed for “compassionate use” in the ongoing outbreak, but none of them has been subjected to clinical trials that could help provide evidence as to whether or not they help improve patients’ survival rates. The decision to launch a randomized clinical trial is seen as the first step toward finding an effective Ebola treatment that would save lives in future outbreaks. Ebola is a deadly disease with an average fatality rate of 50 percent, according to WHO. Similar trials will need to take place in future outbreaks for experts to gather enough evidence of what works. According to WHO’s latest figures, the current outbreak in DRC is now the second-largest ever, with 426 suspected or confirmed cases and at least 242 deaths from Ebola.

About the author

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    Michael Igoe

    Michael Igoe is a Senior Reporter with Devex, based in Washington, D.C. He covers U.S. foreign aid, global health, climate change, and development finance. Prior to joining Devex, Michael researched water management and climate change adaptation in post-Soviet Central Asia, where he also wrote for EurasiaNet. Michael earned his bachelor's degree from Bowdoin College, where he majored in Russian, and his master’s degree from the University of Montana, where he studied international conservation and development.