The Biden-Harris administration’s agenda for yesterday’s Leaders Summit on Climate included a new international climate finance plan that puts billions of new dollars on the table, but not enough to shore up the United States’ credibility as a source of global leadership on climate action.
“For poor nations that contributed little to greenhouse gas emissions but are bearing some of the worst impacts of climate change, the most important pledges at this week’s White House summit will be about money,” Inside Climate News reports. After Donald Trump clawed back two-thirds of the US$3 billion President Barack Obama had promised to the United Nations Green Climate Fund (GCF), Biden’s credibility “may hinge on his actions on international climate aid and finance.”
With the summit as a backdrop, “the finance plan is part of a rush of actions as the administration seeks to prove to the world that the U.S. is back in the global fight against climate change,” Bloomberg Green explained last week. “Rich countries pledged in 2009 that by 2020 they’d collectively devote US$100 billion annually to climate finance but have fallen far short. As the country responsible for the lion’s share of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere today, the U.S. is under pressure to loosen its purse strings.”
“What America does on climate finance really will set the tone for the rest of the world,” Joe Thwaites, an associate with the World Resources Institute’s Sustainable Finance Center, told the news agency.
“An ambitious pledge from the U.S. is going to unlock more ambition on climate finance from other countries,” he added. “The rest of the G7 knows that the pressure is on, but they’re all waiting to see what the U.S. does here.”
Moreover, “advocates of increased aid have sought to contrast the lag in climate aid funding with the quick government spending around the world in 2020—an estimated $12 trillion—to address the economic hardship caused by COVID-19,” Inside Climate writes.
“If a pandemic can provoke such a rapid and far-reaching response, at scale, surely the world can muster the necessary will to act with similar decisiveness and urgency in response to the climate crisis,” an independent group of climate finance experts concluded late last year.
The executive summary of White House plan, released yesterday, lists five areas where the administration plans to make its mark:
• Scaling up international climate finance and boosting its impact;
• Mobilizing private sector financing for international climate initiatives;
• Scaling back public investment in “carbon-intensive fossil fuel-based energy”;
• Aligning capital flows with “low-emissions, climate-resilient pathways”;
• Measuring and reporting more transparently on U.S. efforts in international climate finance.
“The United States intends to double, by 2024, our annual public climate finance to developing countries relative to the average level during the second half of the Obama-Biden administration (FY 2013-2016),” the summary states. “As part of this goal, the United States intends to triple our adaptation finance by 2024. The Biden Administration will work closely with Congress to meet these goals.”
But last week, Climate Home News reported that Biden’s request for $1.2 billion for the GCF and $1.3 billion for other bilateral and multilateral climate programs wouldn’t get the job done.
Alex Lenferna, a 350 Africa campaigner based in Johannesburg, called the total an “insult to the Global South,” adding that “if you add up all the climate damage that has been done through years of U.S. delay, denial, obstruction of climate action, it adds up to the trillions not the billions. So this $1.2 billion is really a slap in the face.”
“This puts the U.S. back in the game but falls short of what is needed to restore America’s global credibility on climate,” said WRI’s Thwaites.
Climate Home says whistleblowers have alleged a “hostile working environment and a lack of integrity under political pressure” that make the GCF the wrong vehicle for new climate finance investment until its “toxic” work culture is repaired. But Brandon Wu, director of policy and campaigns at Action Aid, said the fund is “still the best multilateral channel for climate finance,” despite its shortcomings.
“Civil society organizations have been working to correct many of these shortcomings ever since the GCF’s inception,” he told Climate Home. “The GCF has not yet lived up to its full potential, but its foundational principles are strong and governments must work to strengthen these.”