What once seemed a harmless token of good will from rich countries to poor ones could derail negotiations over a global climate deal next year.
Developing nations want industrial countries to contribute the $100 billion they promised for a Green Climate Fund by 2020 to pay for clean energy and other projects meant to help them adapt to a changing climate.
That $100 billion was never realistic. The fund has $2.3 billion, of which $1.3 billion was raised at the United Nations climate summit last week in New York. Rich nations that were expected to contribute when the U.N. started the fund in 2010 aren’t feeling rich anymore.
Unless developing nations drop their demands, negotiations over a binding climate pact next year in Paris might be over before they really begin.
“The United States and other Western countries and other industrialized countries need to indicate that that amount of money won’t be forthcoming. We can’t allow this funding issue to sabotage an agreement on emissions,” said Paul Bledsoe, senior fellow on energy at the German Marshall Fund of the United States.
Inking a deal would be difficult anyway. Theoretically, nations want commitments to cut enough greenhouse gases by 2020 to avoid a 2 degree Celsius global temperature rise by 2100. Most climate scientists say not enough is being done to curb the emissions they blame for stoking climate change. They argue that even some steps that have been considered bold, such as President Obama’s proposed rules on power plant emissions, are too tame.
The existence of yawning gaps between rhetoric and reality is routine at the U.N. And the hot air is no less plentiful on the subject of climate change than it is on other issues.
The Kyoto negotiations in 1997 set the precedent. They failed because China and India, hewing to their plans for economic growth, refused to participate. The United States balked at signing the treaty without them. The same nations also doomed the 2009 negotiations in Copenhagen, the last major attempt to secure a climate treaty.
India remains obdurate. New Delhi has candidly expressed skepticism about the concept of climate change. It said bluntly last week that its emissions would continue to rise and it would not offer a plan to reduce them before the Paris negotiations.
Although the Copenhagen talks collapsed, the Green Climate Fund was one of the few tangible results of the negotiations. It is symbolic for developing nations and crucial for keeping them engaged in climate talks.
A key moment will come in November, when nations meet specifically to make pledges to the fund. U.N. officials have reduced their first-round goal to $10 billion from $15 billion.