President Barack Obama's pledge of up to $3 billion to a fund to help developing countries cope with climate change was met on Friday with caution by analysts and campaigners, who said the commitment falls well short of meeting the nation's true obligation to pay reparations to those bearing the brunt of the crisis.
"The U.S. has a historical, ecological, and climate debt, and a moral responsibility to pay for the mitigation and adaptation of the climate crisis," Tom Goldtooth, Executive Director of Indigenous Environmental Network and Coordinating Committee member of Grassroots Global Justice Alliance, told Common Dreams. "The U.S. continues to throw peanuts towards poor countries of the Global South."
According to statements made by anonymous White House officials, as reported by the Guardian, Obama will pledge between $2.5 and $3 billion over the next four years to the United Nations Green Climate Fund, which was created under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change to direct funds from wealthy countries to developing ones to help them slash emissions and adapt and to global warming.
"$3 billion falls magnitudes below what is actually needed by developing countries to confront a climate crisis that is not of their making."
—Karen Orenstein, Friends of the Earth
"While a step in the right direction, the pledge falls far short of what is actually needed by developing countries to address climate change," declared Friends of the Earth in a statement released Friday.
Obama is likely to make the formal announcement at the upcoming Group of 20 (G20) summit in Brisbane, Australia this weekend. "We’re doing this because it is in our national interest to build resilience in developing countries to climate change," said one administration official. The revelation comes shortly before a November 20 meeting to take place in Berlin, Germany, aimed at raising money for the Green Climate Fund.
The White House said the money is conditional on pledges from other nations, and the full $3 billion will only be paid if the fund raises $10 billion, the Guardian reports. It is not yet clear where the funding will come from, and whether Obama will need congressional approval. Obama's commitment is not much higher than the $2 billion George W. Bush pledged in 2008 towards a World Bank Climate Investment fund.
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The question of who will pay for the ongoing human impacts of climate change has been at the center of global efforts to stem and address the crisis. While most of the emissions driving global warming come from wealthy nations, numerous studies show that poor nations across the world—which are also the nations who have contributed least to creating the crisis—face the greatest impact.
Social movements and countries from the Global South have argued that rich countries owe a "climate debt"—to be paid in the form of reparations. "Years ago at the COP16 in Cancún, developing countries and social movements had evaluated that the debt amounts of developed countries is an equivalent of $100 billion annually," said Goldtooth. "The U.S. holds responsibility for a major portion of that amount."
While the International Monetary Fund and World Bank have both acknowledged that the global south is hit hardest by the crisis, neither institution has formally backed reparations or other mandated payments by wealthy nations. They have, however, played a role in pulling impacted countries deeper into debt. Front-lines nations, including Bangladesh, are forced to take out World Bank loans to deal with the ongoing impacts of climate change, including deadly cyclones, floods, and droughts. In turn, the accumulated interest payments on those loans are driving these governments further into debt.
"U.S. military spending topped $575 billion last year alone. While it’s welcome, a White House pledge of $3 billion over four years to climate security is a drop in the bucket by comparison."
—Janet Redman, Institute for Policy StudiesMeanwhile, powerful countries are subsidizing the largest drivers of climate change, including fossil fuel development and industrial agriculture. A report released this week by the Overseas Development Institute and Oil Change International found that G20 countries are collectively spending $88 billion a year in public funds to finance the fossil fuel industry's discovery of new gas, coal, and oil sources.
Janet Redman, climate policy director at the Institute for Policy Studies, pointed out Friday that Obama's pledge is miniscule compared to U.S. military funding: "U.S. military spending topped $575 billion last year alone. While it’s welcome, a White House pledge of $3 billion over four years to climate security is a drop in the bucket by comparison."
"The impacts of climate change—extreme storms, water scarcity, food shortages—are no longer threats," Redman added. "For vulnerable communities around the world they are a reality."