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'No Nation is Immune': Climate Change Tops Obama Agenda at G20

President calls for greater need for environmental focus over economic growth, confirms $3 billion donation

President Barack Obama at the G20 summit in Brisbane, Australia on Saturday, November 15, 2014. (Photo: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Despite Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott's objections, climate change became the focal point—at least initially—of the first Group of 20 (G20) meeting this year, as President Barack Obama urged for world leaders to prioritize the environment over the economy in a speech on Saturday.

He pointed to the U.S., Australia, and China in particular as countries whose bigger carbon footprints put them in bigger environmental debt.

"No nation is immune and every nation has a responsibility to do its part," Obama said in his remarks in Brisbane on the first day of the annual summit. "[T]he US and Australia has a lot in common. Well one of the things we have in common is we produce a lot of carbon … which means we’ve got to step up."

He said the emission targets planned between the U.S. and China sent "a powerful message to the world that all countries, whether you are a developed country, a developing country or somewhere in between, you’ve got to be able to overcome old divides, look squarely at the science and reach a strong global climate agreement next year."

"And if China and the US can agree on this then the world can agree on this, we can get this done and it is necessary for us to get it done," he added.

Obama also confirmed that the U.S. would donate $3 billion to the United Nations Green Climate Fund to help developing nations contend with the consequences of global warming, although experts accepted his promise with caution after the announcement. Janet Redman, climate policy director at the Institute for Policy Studies, said on Friday that Obama's pledge is "a drop in the bucket" compared to White House military spending, which topped $575 billion in the last year alone.

Still, the donation surpasses what many other developed nations are willing to put in—including G20 host country Australia. As the Guardian notes, Abbott's cabinet reportedly decided against giving money to the fund in one of its first meetings, describing it as "socialism masquerading as activism."

Oxfam executive director Winnie Byanyima called on Australia to "stop being a blocker" at the risk of "finding itself isolated in the world."

According to statements made by anonymous White House officials, Obama will pledge between $2.5 and $3 billion over the next four years to the fund, which will direct money from wealthy countries to developing nations in the Global South to help them cut emissions and adapt to the effects of climate change.

But the donation is said to be conditional on pledges from other nations, and the full $3 billion will only be paid if the fund raises $10 billion. It is not yet clear where the U.S. money will come from, and whether Obama will need congressional approval.

In addition to the U.S., donations have come in from France, which pledged $1 billion, and Germany, which promised nearly $1 billion. A special conference in Berlin on November 20 is also expected to raise more.

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