Climate Aid Reaches $30 Billion Goal, But Is It New?

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(Reuters) – Aid promises from rich nations to help poor countries slow global warming are reaching the $30 billion goal agreed in Copenhagen but analysts say much of that is old funding dressed up as new pledges.

Officially, the promises total $29.8 billion, Reuters calculations show, apparently meeting a pledge of “new and additional” funds “approaching $30 billion” for 2010-12 made at the U.N. summit in Copenhagen in December.

But austerity policies to combat government debt problems and a re-labeling of past promises will undermine real funding that is vital to unlock a new U.N. climate deal by showing that the developed world is serious about taking a leadership role, analysts say.

“I’m afraid the pledges of Copenhagen will not be realized,” said Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. “It would be a little political miracle if it happened. I’m fairly pessimistic.”

He said that Germany, the biggest European Union economy, was unlikely to fulfill its promises even though it had fewer economic problems than most EU nations, struggling to plug huge budget deficits.

Climate aid is widely seen as a key to build trust between rich and poor in the run-up to the 2010 U.N. meeting of environment ministers, in Cancun, Mexico, from November 29-December 10.

The cash was meant as a “fast start” for action to slow floods, droughts, heat waves and rising seas. Donors say projects are starting, from Nepal to Mali.

Many poor nations say “new and additional” means cash above an unmet 1970 U.N. target for rich nations to give 0.7 percent of their gross national product in aid — OECD figures show that aid totaled $120 billion, or 0.31 percent of developed countries’ combined GNP, in 2009.

Developed nations have varying definitions of what counts.

RENAMING AID

“It’s hard to know what’s really new and additional,” said Clifford Polycarp of the Washington-based World Resources Institute, which tracks pledges by all nations. Some funds were “restated or renamed commitments already made.”

Japan’s pledge of fast start funds is by far the highest — $15 billion — but much of the money stems from a “Cool Earth Partnership” agreed several years ago to run from 2008-12.

Among other big pledges, the EU plans $9.6 billion for 2010-12 and U.S. President Barack Obama plans $3.2 billion for 2010-11. But some money was committed before Copenhagen to climate funds, for instance managed by the World Bank.

“It’s horribly confusing,” said Gordon Shepherd, leader of the climate initiative at the WWF International environmental group. He said it was vital that governments outlined strings attached and what they meant by “new and additional.”

“Without that, people can’t get into honest and open negotiations,” he said.

NEW WEBSITE

Switzerland, Mexico and the Netherlands are among countries that favor setting up a voluntary website to track promises. The portal may be unveiled at an informal meeting of about 30 environment ministers in Geneva next week.

Analysts say new cash would help build trust after the Copenhagen Accord fell short of a new treaty. It set a non-binding goal of limiting a rise in world temperatures to below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6F) above pre-industrial times.

According to the Copenhagen Accord, aid is meant to surge to $100 billion a year from 2020 to help the poor curb dependence on fossil fuels and help adapt, for instance by improving defenses against floods like those devastating Pakistan.

Alden Meyer, of the Washington-based Union of Concerned Scientists, said progress in raising $30 billion and confidence that the $100 billion “is more than vapid rhetoric is essential to the prospects of anything getting done in Cancun.”

The Cancun talks are unlikely to agree a new U.N. treaty but could make progress on issues such as protecting tropical forests, sharing new green technologies and sharing out the burden of curbs on greenhouse gases between rich and poor.

One problem is the lack of yardsticks to decide who pays what in aid. The Swiss government, for instance, is asking parliament to approve fast start funds totaling 140 million Swiss francs ($135.9 million) — 0.45 percent of $30 billion.

Franz Perrez, Swiss ambassador for the environment, said the contribution was based on the country’s 0.3 percent share of developed nations’ greenhouse gas emissions, boosted by the fact that Switzerland is wealthier than most developed countries.

Article by Alister Doyle; Additional reporting by Richard Cowan in Washington, Chisa Fujioka in Tokyo, Pete Harrison in Brussels, Louise Egan in Ottawa, Laura MacInnis in Geneva; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall; appearing courtesy Reuters.

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Walter’s contributions to CleanTechies over the past 4 years have been instrumental in growing the publications social media channels via his ongoing editorial and data driven strategies. He is the founder and managing director of Sunflower Tax, a renewable energy tax and finance consultancy based in San Diego, California. Active in the San Diego clean technology community, participating in events sponsored by CleanTech San Diego, EcoTopics, and Cleantech Open San Diego, Walter has also been a presenter at numerous California Center for Sustainability (CCSE) programs. He currently serves as an adjunct professor at the University of San Diego School of Law where he teaches a course on energy taxation and policy.