- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 29, 2015

Ugandan Foreign Minister Sam Kutesa was explicit earlier this year when asked what it would take for developing countries to sign up for the emerging U.S.-led climate deal: “Money.”

His candor was recounted in an April email between two of the Obama administration’s top global warming officials, who called the succinct wisdom from Mr. Kutesa — at the time the president of the U.N. General Assembly — the “best answer of [the] night.”

Indeed, as Todd Stern, the State Department’s top climate official, and Brian Deese, President Obama’s top climate adviser, are trying to rally a deal ahead of a major meeting in Paris that kicks off Monday, it’s becoming clear that any diplomatic breakthrough will be far less about converting hearts and minds than it will be about finding enough money to seal the agreement.

That payoff will come in the form of the Green Climate Fund, the U.N.’s green bank, to which the world’s rich countries are supposed to donate $100 billion a year beginning in 2020, with the money going to the developing world, where it is supposed to be split between converting economies to green energy and helping mitigate the worst effects of changing temperatures.

“It’s not about climate. It never was,” said Christopher Horner, a researcher who obtained the Obama administration email detailing Mr. Kutesa’s stance. “All they want is wealth transfers, for the poor in rich countries to pay the rich in poor countries.”

Neither the Ugandan foreign ministry nor Mr. Stern returned emails seeking comment on the exchange, but the sentiment is echoed by all sides ahead of COP 21, the two-week meeting to hammer out a new global climate deal, which begins Monday in Paris.

SEE ALSO: COP 21: Obama says terrorism can’t deter climate-change work

“Everyone knows that money will need to be on the table to seal the deal, but climate finance has been the biggest unknown in the lead-up to Paris,” Oxfam, a British-based nonprofit, said in a new report ahead of the meetings. “Negotiations on climate finance have been at a glacial pace, and only really began in earnest at the final negotiating session in October.”

Oxfam said the $100 billion target for annual aid must be a floor, not a ceiling, and warned that the number could need to rise much higher if governments can’t agree to stricter emissions targets.

It’s all a matter of math, the nonprofit said. The target was to reduce emissions enough so that the earth’s temperature would rise no more than 2 degrees Celsius — leading to costs of about $1.6 trillion a year in both economic losses and adaptation costs.

But current pledges would produce a rise of 3 degrees in world temperatures, which would add nearly $1 trillion to those annual costs, Oxfam calculates. That should put pressure on developed countries to pony up more, the nonprofit said, calling “climate finance” one of the major moving parts of the negotiations.

“The Paris COP won’t save the world. But it must serve as a springboard for increasing climate ambition in the years ahead. The Paris outcome will be a legal agreement, lasting for the next 15 years at the very least. As a consequence, we cannot afford to lock in low ambition, and we cannot settle for a deal at any price,” Oxfam said.

Nearly 150 heads of state will attend the Paris meeting, dubbed COP 21 because it is the 21st session of the Conference of Parties. Monday’s opening ceremonies will be followed by two weeks of negotiations lasting six hours a day, broken into morning and afternoon sessions.

The meeting comes as the World Meteorological Organization reported last week that the average global surface temperature in 2015 is likely to be the warmest recorded by humans, and will be 1 degree Celsius above the benchmark temperature before the industrial era.

A weather pattern known as El Nino is responsible for some of the warmth recorded this year, but the WMO scientists said 2011 to 2015 is the hottest five-year period on record, suggesting something more than weather is at work.

The Paris gathering is seen as a chance for the world community to erase the failure of Copenhagen in 2009 — COP 15 — which broke up in chaos, with major developing nations such as China and India refusing to agree to binding targets for greenhouse gas emissions.

The climate fund is one way to try to get developing nations on board, but perhaps anticipating difficulties, Mr. Obama and other world leaders plan to announce a clean energy initiative, dubbed Mission Innovation, designed to double research and development on green energy projects.

Mr. Obama himself will be in Paris only for several days, holding one-on-one meetings with key leaders such as Chinese President Xi Jinping and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. But his personal involvement is likely to be derailed by the need to confront the resurgent Islamic State, which struck in horrific fashion in Paris just a few weeks ago.

Instead, it’s his Cabinet officials who will do most of the heavy lifting: Secretary of State John F. Kerry, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy.

“We have come so far, but we know we can’t go the distance alone,” Ms. McCarthy said in a video released ahead of her trip. “Nations around the world must come together in Paris and commit to leaving our kids a healthy, safe planet that is full of promise.”

But the president’s hands are somewhat tied by a GOP-led Congress back home, which has warned Mr. Obama he cannot sign any binding deals, and his own plans to impose cuts to U.S. emissions are facing tough challenges in the courts.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, in an op-ed in The Washington Post on Sunday, said whatever the president agrees to could be undone by his successor in 2017.

“Few expect this anti-middle class power plan to last much beyond the months remaining in Obama’s term though. The courts appear likely to strike it down, the next president could tear it up, more than half of the 50 states have filed suit against it, and — critically — a bipartisan majority in both chambers of Congress just approved legislation to expressly reject it,” Mr. McConnell said.

One test for the U.S. will be to see if Mr. Obama offers to up the U.S. pledge to the climate fund.

The current pledge is for $3 billion — the biggest share of the $10.2 billion in total world pledges, from 38 countries. But the U.S. hasn’t signed over any of its money yet, with Congress reluctant to carve that much money out of already-stretched discretionary budgets.

Japan is the second-largest contributor, having pledged $1.5 billion. The United Kingdom is next at $1.2 billion, followed by Germany at $1 billion.

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

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