The Obama administration is among a handful of governments backtracking on a $100 billion promise they made to help poor countries fight climate change, a report finds.
As the United Nations gathers in Poland this week to assess international efforts to fight climate change, a report from development advocacy group Oxfam says there has been a lot of confusion and “smoke and mirrors” about who promised what.
“What is needed is certainty in uncertain times,” Oxfam spokeswoman Kelly Dent said. “The U.S. needs to provide certainty to developing countries that it is actually serious about the 2020 commitment and it needs to increase its commitments to reach the 2020 goal.”
In 2009, industrialized countries, such as the U.S., United Kingdom, Germany and France agreed to provide $100 billion a year by 2020 to help developing countries fight climate change, during a United Nations meeting in Copenhagen. But four years later, the countries that promised that money have been slow to deliver and critics fear they have fallen off target.
This year, developed countries have given their poor neighbors about $16.3 billion toward the climate change battle, but the Oxfam report finds many of these countries have fudged the numbers, bringing the level of support down to $7.6 billion.
Many countries have taken money from international relief funds that already existed and repurposed it to fight climate change, while other countries, such as France, have counted loans among the support they have promised. But developed countries should not use creative accounting maneuvers to meet their obligations, Oxfam contends.
“They’re not doing anywhere near enough,” said Ms. Dent, speaking from Warsaw. “It’s not just the U.S. It’s all developed countries. The only ones that are close to doing what is needed are the U.K. and Germany.”
Part of the problem is the uncertainty created by countries that have not said specifically how much they will provide each year from 2013 through 2015. In fact, countries that provided a combined 81 percent of the fast-start funding have yet to say how much they will provide over the next two years, or how they plan to reach the goal of $100 billion a year by 2020, Oxfam reports. This lack of transparency has caused problems for developing countries that can’t prepare for climate change until they know how much money they will be receiving.
In the United States, climate change support from the Obama administration has cooled. During the first stage of the global campaign against climate change from 2010 through 2012 — known as the “fast start” period — the U.S. donated $7.5 billion. Oxfam would like the Obama administration to double that number over the next two years.
But in 2013, the U.S. gave just $1.6 billion, Oxfam estimates.
“I hope President Obama is able to follow through on what he has promised,” Ms. Dent said. “We’re happy with the signals Obama has sent, but it remains to be seen whether he can follow through on his promises to reduce emissions.”
The Obama administration also left developing countries wondering how much support it would provide in 2014, until Tuesday, when American envoy Trigg Talley told reporters the U.S. would provide $2.7 billion next year.
The only country to indicate how much money it will provide in 2015 is the United Kingdom.
Environmental advocacy groups argue that industrialized countries, such as the U.S., have played the biggest role in causing climate change, and therefore they should give poor countries money to deal with the problem that affects them the most. But industrialized countries have been dragging their feet, Oxfam reported.
Poor countries use the climate change money to make the switch to renewable energy and other low-carbon sources. They also use it for things such as installing weather data stations that tell farmers when to plant their crops, and early-warning systems that tell governments when a big storm is coming so they can evacuate cities in the path of danger.
“We know the seasons are changing and oftentimes farmers plant their crops at the wrong time, because they don’t have the information they need,” Ms. Dent said. “In the past, the seasons were more predictable. But these days it’s not the same time each year.”
The State Department did not respond to a request for comment.
However, the Obama administration’s top climate official told a London think tank last month that an increase in public funding from developed countries is unlikely.
“Now the hard reality: no step change in overall levels of public funding from developed countries is likely to come anytime soon,” Todd Stern, U.S. special envoy for climate change said at Chatham House in London on Oct. 22.
“The fiscal reality of the United States and other developed countries is not going to allow it. This is not just a matter of the recent financial crisis; it is structural, based on the huge obligations we face from aging populations and other pressing needs for infrastructure, education, health care and the like,” he said. “We must and will strive to keep increasing our climate finance, but it is important that all of us see the world as it is.”
• Ashish Kumar Sen contributed to this report.