After Copenhagen, questions about U.S. commitment to climate change aid to developing countries


After building up expectations with the Copenhagen Accord of substantial new aid to developing countries, is the Obama administration already lowering them now that the action has shifted to the U.S. domestic scene?  Under the Copenhagen Accord, “developed countries commit to a goal of mobilizing jointly” $100 billion a year by 2020 in “new and additional, predictable and adequate funding” to aid developing countries in mitigating and adapting to climate change. But on January 7, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton “sidestepped the commitment when asked directly if the US portion would be additional,” ClimateWire reported.

In the wake of the Copenhagen climate conference held in December 2009, many questions remain about adaptation funding for developing countries and about the US commitment.

In November 2009 Climate Science Watch attended a briefing on the World Bank study Economics of Adaptation to Climate Change, commissioned to project costs to developing countries of adapting to a 2 degree C warmer world. A consultation draft of the study was released in September 2009. 

The study concludes that adaptation costs for developing countries will be on the order of $75-100 billion per year for the period 2010 to 2050. Current international development funding for all purposes totals about $120 billion per year. 

Both the science and economics of climate change adaptation are emerging bodies of knowledge. According to the World Bank, this study is the most in-depth analysis of the economics of adaptation to climate change to date.

As noted at the briefing, adaptation and development activities are often one and the same.  Thus, the question of how to distinguish adaptation to climate change impacts from existing development efforts is at issue.

The report stresses that “development strategies must maximize flexibility and incorporate knowledge about climate change as it is gained.” Yet many uncertainties remain over how the relationship between development and adaptation will be negotiated in terms of international funding.

At the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change conference in Copenhagen, Secretary of State Clinton announced the US would participate in mobilizing $100 billion in annual global climate change aid for developing countries by 2020. This commitment, and the US pledge to take a lead role in mobilizing funding, was a key element in obtaining developing country support for the Copenhagen Accord agreed to on the last day of the conference.

But ClimateWire (subscription required) reported on January 7 (“Global Climate Funding Remains Undefined – Clinton):

America’s contribution to $100 billion in annual global climate change funding by 2020 may not be over and above existing foreign aid, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton indicated yesterday. …

[W]hile the Copenhagen Accord, as it is known, calls for ‘scaled up, new and additional’ money to help poor nations cope with climate change-provoked disasters, Clinton sidestepped the commitment when asked directly if the US portion would be additional.

Clinton said: “We don’t know yet, because we don’t know what the Congress is going to do.” …

Clinton’s comments came after a speech in which she outlined the State Department’s development agenda for the coming year. … She listed energy as one of six sectors in which the State Department plans to focus extra attention, but mentioned climate change policy only glancingly until asked about it specifically in a question-and-answer session.

The question of where the money will come from is very much up in the air.  It will depend in part on whether Congress can be pushed to enact meaningful climate change legislation. HR 2454, the Waxman-Markey climate and clean energy bill passed by the House in 2009, would set aside a certain percentage of revenue from emissions allowances to fund domestic and international adaptation. Adaptation funding would ramp up over time, but no specific dollar amount can be determined at present; revenue levels would be contingent on the value of emissions allowances over time. The Kerry-Boxer Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act, as voted out by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, has similar provisions.  No further Senate action has been taken on the bill at this time.

Will President Obama demonstrate a forceful commitment to carrying out his promise to the developing world in Copenhagen, or will the Administration retreat into “we don’t know, it’s up to Congress” excuse-making? Will Obama lead public opinion on this and be willing to get into a domestic political fight in order to honor his commitment, or will he walk it back when the going gets tough, as it no doubt will on this issue? 

The relevant paragraph of the Copenhagen Accord reads:

8. Scaled up, new and additional, predictable and adequate funding as well as improved access shall be provided to developing countries, in accordance with the relevant provisions of the Convention, to enable and support enhanced action on mitigation, including substantial finance to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD-plus), adaptation, technology development and transfer and capacity-building, for enhanced implementation of the Convention. The collective commitment by developed countries is to provide new and additional resources, including forestry and investments through international institutions, approaching USD 30 billion for the period 2010 – 2012 with balanced allocation between adaptation and mitigation. Funding for adaptation will be prioritized for the most vulnerable developing countries, such as the least developed countries, small island developing States and Africa. In the context of meaningful mitigation actions and transparency on implementation, developed countries commit to a goal of mobilizing jointly USD 100 billion dollars a year by 2020 to address the needs of developing countries. This funding will come from a wide variety of sources, public and private, bilateral and multilateral, including alternative sources of finance. New multilateral funding for adaptation will be delivered through effective and efficient fund arrangements, with a governance structure providing for equal representation of developed and developing countries. A significant portion of such funding should flow through the Copenhagen Green Climate Fund.

See here for the full text of the Copenhagen Accord.

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