State Department sends another $500 million to UN Green Climate Fund

The United States has contributed $1 billion total toward the UN climate fund. Will other wealthy nations follow? 

How Hwee Young/Reuters
Chinese President Xi Jinping (c.) shakes hands with President Obama (r.) and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon (l.) during a joint ratification of the Paris climate change agreement ceremony ahead of the G20 Summit at the West Lake State Guest House in Hangzhou, China, on Sept. 3, 2016. The Obama administration has pledged another $500 million toward the UN climate fund.

On Tuesday, the Obama administration announced that it had made a $500 million payment to the United Nation’s Green Climate Fund, which helps developing nations lower carbon emissions and adapt to climate change.

The United States pledged a total contribution of $3 billion to the fund at the 2014 Paris Climate Accords, and had already paid $500 million prior to Tuesday’s contribution, which came from an uncommitted portion of $4.3 billion set aside for economic support funds, the Associated Press reports.

State Department spokesman John Kirby told reporters that the contribution was “long planned” and denied “any nefarious desire or intent to do it just two days before” President-elect Donald Trump, an outspoken critic of the Paris Climate accords, takes office.

“This administration has committed to this fund, in fact helped stand it up, establish it,” Mr. Kirby said, as reported by AP. “And it is entirely in keeping with the work that we've been doing across the interagency to try to look for ways to stem the effects of climate change, and this fund helps other economies, other countries develop their own initiatives and help them deal with this.”

But many activists and diplomats worry that this contribution could mark the end of an era in which the US led the global fight against climate change. Mr. Trump’s skepticism about the Paris Accords and other efforts, they fear, could erase the modest gains made in recent years.

“It’s like all the hard work of Paris could be wiped away,” Jamie Ovia, an official working for the Pacific island nation of Tuvalu, told The Christian Science Monitor in November.

Diplomats are particularly concerned that Trump might cancel US climate aid to developing countries, like the payment that Obama just made to the Green Climate Fund. As Zach Colman reported for the Monitor:

The premise behind the climate aid is twofold. First is a practical reason: Stopping carbon dioxide build-up in the atmosphere can only be achieved by addressing emissions on a global scale, and developing nations will be hard-pressed to finance a clean-energy transition on their own. Second is a moral argument: Advanced nations like the US created an outsized share of the greenhouse gases that are affecting Earth’s climate, while the world’s poorest citizens often face the worst effects of warming temperatures.

The $500 million paid to the UN climate fund will address these challenges. But it’s a drop in the bucket compared to the $100 billion that rich countries will be expected to contribute to climate aid each year by 2020, per the Paris Accords.

A Trump administration decision to cancel climate aid could make it much tougher to hit that target.

“Some multilateral funds like the Global Environmental Facility include explicit burden-sharing agreements, meaning a US failure to donate could let other countries off the hook,” reported Colman

Some observers don’t see that happening. At the Marrakech conference that marked the one-year anniversary of the Paris Accords, several attendees voiced confidence that China, Canada, and Germany – other leaders on climate change – would either fill the funding gap left by the US, or pressure the Trump administration to stick with the Paris Accords.

Some US leaders are preparing to do just that. In a statement released Tuesday, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D) of Oregon said, “This contribution shows that even as we face an incoming Administration that engages in dangerous climate denial, those of us in the United States who believe in taking action to save our planet, our economy, and our future will continue doing everything in our power to move forward.”

The developing countries in the crosshairs of climate change are hoping that these attitudes win out. As Tosi Mpanu-Mpanu, who represented the Democratic Republic of the Congo at the Marrakech conference, put it, “There is a movement.”

“A single man cannot stop it,” he told the Monitor in November.

This article contains material from the Associated Press.

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