It’s the industrialized nations that have emitted the elephant’s share of climate-changing gases and benefited from the economic wealth produced. Despite the U.S. president’s statement that “billions and billions and billions” have gone from U.S. coffers to the Green Climate Fund — set up to achieve some equity for countries that haven’t yet polluted their way to modern economic success — of the $3 billion pledged, or $9.30 per citizen, $1 billion has been paid. That’s still a lot, as a total of 43 countries have promised $10.1 billion. But, looked at per capita, Luxembourg offered $93.60 and Sweden $60.54.
Raymond Clémençon was a member of the Swiss faction of the Global Environment Facility (GEF), organized in 1991. The multi-nation group, which funded climate projects, evolved into the Green Climate Fund, established during the Copenhagen conference in 2009. It is engaged in projects that range from improving resilience in Vanuatu to agriculture in Namibia and glacial flood risk in Pakistan. Clémençon is now a professor of Global Studies at UCSB and responded to questions in an email exchange with The Santa Barbara Independent.
Trump made much of the U.S. pledge to the Green Climate Fund. What are the group’s goals? Some emerging economies could grow their emissions very quickly, and the Green Climate Fund recognizes this. Developed countries have committed to supporting emerging countries financially in their efforts to control emissions and adapt to climate change. This is particularly important to the poorest developing countries whose emissions remain tiny; they are most vulnerable to climate change and extreme weather events but don’t have the financial capacity to adapt by making their agriculture and infrastructure climate resilient.
At the Copenhagen Conference, developed countries agreed in principle that $100 billion should be made available by 2020 to help developing countries (1) take measures to control greenhouse gas emissions by funding renewable energy, reducing dependence on coal, etc.; and (2) to adapt to climate change, such as making agriculture and infrastructure climate resilient. The Fund became operational in 2016. It will have much more money to disburse than the GEF if donor countries honor their commitments.
It is important to note that the $100 billion figure is very loosely defined as coming from all sources, including private sector investments. The U.S. has made a point that most of the funding would have to come from the private sector. How this should be counted has been a contentious issue ever since.
Have the other countries given equally? Yes, other countries have contributed as well, most developed countries at higher per capita rates than the U.S. The actual U.S. contribution amounts to less than $3 per person per year. Most other donor countries give a bit above that figure: Japan and Germany, $4; France, $5; and the U.K. about $6. Calculated against per capita emissions, however, the U.S. contribution shrinks by half, as all these countries have about half the per person emissions.
This is very little money that is critically important in helping developing countries move on emissions reduction, which is in every country’s interest.
I personally believe that a green fund should be financed, in the longer run, by a per capita contribution calculated in relation to a country’s emissions. Ideally funds would be raised by some small but automatic surcharge on energy consumption. I understand that this seems pie in the sky, given how polarizing requests for increased taxes are, but California could take a step in this direction and automatically redirect some of the proceeds from its mandatory emissions cap-and-trade system.
What do you see the effect might be of the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Agreement? I think it will have an immediate effect on the Climate Fund, if the largest donor does not follow through in its commitment. The fund will have to operate with less money, and I hear there is a lot of uncertainty about how to program resources. But in the end this is not that much money, and it is possible that other countries or even private donors could step in.
The long-term political impact of the U.S. stepping away from Paris is less clear to me. It is mostly symbolic, since the Paris Agreement is voluntary. It is clearly very disappointing and sends the absolutely wrong signal to the world. But it might have a positive impact in that it could strengthen the resolve of other countries. I am worried a bit, however, that this professed resolve may wither away because of competitiveness concerns and trade implications of stepped-up emissions-reduction efforts.
States like California and New York are my big hope. They can signal to the world that the U.S. is more than its federal government. California is the sixth largest economy in the world, and what it does matters a lot. Jerry Brown deserves credit for having come out very strongly in support of the Paris Agreement. It will be interesting to see what California can do by itself.