U.N. Hoping for Significant U.S. Pledge to Climate Fund [UPDATED]
Pressure is mounting on the United States to pledge a contribution to the U.N. Green Climate Fund before the U.N. Climate Change Conference in December in Lima, Peru. Considering the fund's goal of raising $100 billion from "global north" countries to help poorer nations develop clean energy infrastructure and adapt to climate change, conventional wisdom is that pledges of between $10 billion and $15 billion are needed soon for the program to be seen as viable.
Begun in 2010, the Green Climate Fund aims to alleviate some of the suffering caused by greenhouse gases already emitted in developed countries. The U.N. has determined that effects of these emissions will fall disproportionately on the poor, for example in the form of lower crop yields and greater frequency and severity of storms. The thinking goes that restricting poor countries' emissions, and the economic benefits that accrue from cheap fossil fuels, would be unfair because there have been no such limits on rich countries. Success of the fund is seen as key to getting poor countries to agree to limits on future emissions.
Peru's foreign minister, Gonzalo Gutierrez, announced after meeting with Secretary of State John Kerry last week that the U.S. is considering making a significant pledge to the fund next month. The U.S. is the world's second-biggest emitter of GHGs, and the largest per capita. [UPDATE: A senior Obama administration official told The New York Times Nov. 14 that President Obama will announce a $3 billion contribution from the U.S. to the Fund.]
A pledging conference will take place on Nov. 19 and 20 in Berlin, weeks before Lima. Half of the Green Climate Fund would be allotted to reducing emissions and the other half to climate change adaptation. France, Switzerland, Norway, Denmark, and the Czech Republic announced pledges amounting to $1.325 billion at the U.N. Climate Summit last month, bringing the total pledged to $2.325 billion. Leaders from Japan and the Netherlands said that they also intend to contribute.
Green Climate Fund organizers want governments to make pledges sooner rather than later so that they can discuss other pressing issues in Berlin. If the U.S. doesn’t contribute funds, it would be backing out of promises made in 2009 in Copenhagen.
“The U.S. has a moral responsibility to help developing countries prepare for and mitigate climate change,” said Ben Grossman-Cohen, senior press officer for the relief and development organization Oxfam America. The group is calling for a pledge of $4.8 billion from the United States.
Canada, Australia, the European Union, and the United Kingdom also have yet to commit.
Bill McKibben, founder of the climate movement 350.org, said, “I can't predict what the U.S. and U.N. will do, only that we will pressure them hard to make good on the commitments—and the moral necessity—to help developing countries that didn't cause the crisis we face and now suffer the most from its depredations." He added, "There's no way forward without this kind of justice."
The U.S. Senate is seen as the main obstacle to U.S. commitment to an international climate agreement. President Obama promised bigger cuts to carbon emissions at the U.N. Climate Summit last month, but the Senate scuttled the emissions trading scheme known as cap and trade during the president's first term. Because the U.S. Constitution requires a two-thirds Senate majority to ratify international treaties, it's unclear what the president—or his successor—can do to help the fund or a broader agreement on limiting emissions.
Nevertheless, hope among climate activists springs eternal: Grossman-Cohen believes an agreement from the U.S. can take a variety of forms, not all of which require Senate ratification. "It’s not a question of the president getting around ratification but of finding the most effective pathway for coordinated international action," he said.
UPDATED [Nov. 14, 2014 10:35 a.m.]