High-Level Talks Focus on Climate Finance, But Holders of Purse Strings Mostly Absent

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By Dean Scott  

Nov. 20 --High-level negotiators at the United Nations climate summit Nov. 20 focused solely on the funding developing countries need to adapt to climate change in a daylong session touted as a historic first, but many delegates acknowledged that raising higher sums is in the hands of world leaders and their finance ministers.

The ministerial-level finance talks in Warsaw focused on an issue deemed crucial to the success of the Nov. 11-22 talks in ensuring that a global climate accord can be signed in Paris in 2015. The U.S. and other developed countries pledged at a 2009 climate summit to provide $100 billion a year for climate finance beginning in 2020.

But vulnerable countries in Africa and elsewhere argue that addressing global impacts of climate change will cost much more--perhaps a trillion dollars a year or more. They also want developed nations to produce tens of billions of dollars a year in climate finance well before 2020 and say they won't go along with an agreement to conclude the Warsaw talks if it fails to include more near-term pledges.

Negotiators from more than 190 countries are meeting in Warsaw to lay the groundwork for a universal 2015 greenhouse gas reduction agreement that would go into effect no later than 2020 (see related story). Negotiators pledged at the conclusion of the 2012 climate summit in Doha, Qatar, to hold the ministerial-level dialogue on finance, largely to placate developing countries.

Reaction after the day of high-level finance talks was mixed. “It obviously wasn’t all it could have been,” Alden Meyer, director of strategy and policy for the Union of Concerned Scientists, told Bloomberg BNA.

The meeting was not attended by a broad range of finance ministers--most countries sent the same environment ministers who were already in Warsaw--and more progress will require bringing financial officials together, Meyer said.

The Warsaw talks serve as the 19th Conference of the Parties (COP) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change as well as the Ninth Meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol.

Funding for Adaptation

Four other environmental groups released a joint statement Nov. 20 urging developed countries to move more quickly on climate finance, arguing that most past funding has been used to help poor countries cut emissions, not adapt to climate impacts.

Less than 20 percent “of climate aid goes to adaptation” in vulnerable countries, according to the statement from the Nature Conservancy, the International Union for Conservation of Nature, Birdlife International and Wetlands International.

Meyer said national finance ministers and leaders need to get involved. “Obviously environment ministers cannot deliver the goods when it comes to large financial commitments,” Meyer said. “But the jury is still out what the best forum is to do that, whether you want to do this again in Lima”--the Peruvian capital hosting the December 2014 UN climate talks--or a month later when world leaders attend the Group of 20 summit in Brisbane, Australia.

“I don’t think anyone came to Warsaw expecting the U.S., Japan or the [European Union] would make major new announcements here of pledges dramatically increasing finance,” Meyer said. But without assurances that developed countries are committed to “ramping up resources,” there won't be “a lot of ambition” from developing nations in committing to address their fast-growing emissions in the next global agreement, he said.

Limited Resources

In his remarks at the finance dialogue, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon acknowledged that each country's decision on funding “is ultimately in the hands of finance ministers” and that “every country has limited resources.”

Finance ministers, along with national leaders, “have the key now to whether we are successful” in addressing the needs of developing nations, Ban said.

U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change Todd Stern said at the finance talks that the U.S. recognizes “that substantial flows are needed to support developing countries in building low-carbon economies and adapting to the impacts of climate change.”

Stern told reporters hours later that an entire day of high-level talks on finance was historic because it marked “the first time there has been an extended high-level session devoted to finance” at a COP summit since the signing of the 1992 framework convention on climate change.

But Stern, the top U.S. negotiator at the Warsaw talks, also defended the funding already awarded as well as the sums pledged by the U.S. and other developed nations.

“Look, we have a joint $100 billion donor commitment” for each year beginning in 2020, Stern said. He emphasized that the 2009 pledge for that level of funding was made “in the context of getting meaningful mitigation and transparency from all countries--including the developing countries” in a new global climate agreement.

“That’s what our financial commitment is,” Stern said. “That’s not changing.”

'Fast-Track' Funds

Stern noted that the $100 billion-by-2020 pledge doesn't include the additional $7.4 billion the U.S. contributed in “fast-track” climate funding for developing nations between 2010 and 2012. The U.S. and other developed nations pledged $30 billion in total fast-track funding at the 2009 Copenhagen summit.

Other ministers from industrialized nations said Nov. 20 that they have already made significant commitments to climate finance, including Ville Niinisto, Finland’s minister of the environment.

He told other ministers Finland provided 110 million euros ($147.8 million) for the 2010-2012 fast-track funding period and is “ready to contribute our fair share to the Green Climate Fund,” a body created by the COP that could be ready to disburse funding sometime in 2014.

“We now expect our total public climate finance in 2014 to nearly double compared to our average during the past three years,” Niinisto said.

But the head of the Philippines delegation, Yeb Sano, told other ministers that developing countries wouldn't be demanding more money had industrialized countries actually begun curbing their emissions when they signed the 1992 UN framework convention. The convention put the onus primarily on industrialized nations to address climate change.

“If the developed countries [had] shown the leadership to reduce greenhouse gases at the onset of this convention, we the most vulnerable would not have to adapt,” said the minister for the Philippines, which was struck by a typhoon killing thousands just days before the Warsaw climate talks began. “We would not have the need to push for adaptation support.”


To contact the reporter on this story: Dean Scott in Warsaw at dscott@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com