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Hillary Clinton offers climate aid to poor countries—with strings attached

Dec 17, 2009 - Agence France Press

COPENHAGEN - U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton slightly brightened a grim mood at the U.N. climate talks on Thursday by announcing that the United States would contribute toward a long-term fund worth $100 billion a year by 2020.

But she tied the money to guarantees from China, India, and Brazil—though she didn’t name them—for ambitious voluntary measures on curbing greenhouse-gas emissions that would be tied to tough scrutiny provisions.

The contribution would be “in the context of a strong accord in which all major economies stand behind meaningful mitigation actions and provide full transparency as to their implementation,” Clinton told a press conference. In such circumstances, “the United States is prepared to work with other countries toward a goal of jointly mobilizing $100 billion a year by 2020 to address the climate change needs,” she said.


With that and other recent announcements, the key issue of climate finance is at last taking shape in the final phase of the climate talks. Rich countries have coalesced around figures for short- and long-term financing and for encouraging countries with tropical forests to preserve these natural assets rather then fell them. If—a big if—the figures are accepted, hundreds of billions of dollars could be heading towards poorer countries a decade or two from now, helping them switch to cleaner technology and shore up defences against worsening floods, drought, storms and rising seas.

Aid groups hailed Clinton’s announcement.

“The U.S. delegation came to Copenhagen with no money and poor targets, and these talks have gone nowhere,” said Ricken Patel, executive director of global campaign network Avaaz.org. “Today, they’ve announced a decent commitment on money. If they move on targets as well, we could still see a breakthrough in Copenhagen.”

The figure of $100 billion is aligned with figures for long-term funding sketched by the European Union, which has yet to announce what share it would pay.

“It’s an important development and very welcome to have the United States on the same page as the U.K. and the E.U. in terms of long-term climate finance,” a British spokesman said.

As for short-term finance, $10 billion a year for 2010-2012 is envisaged as a de-facto sweetener for an overall deal at Copenhagen. That too is making headway.

Japan on Wednesday said it would offer $19.5 billion to the three-year scheme, topping an E.U. pledge of $10.6 billion.

The United States has said it is ready to pay a “fair share,” but President Barack Obama—due in Copenhagen on Friday—has not yet announced any figure.

In addition, six wealthy countries (Australia, Britain, France, Japan, Norway, and the United States) announced Wednesday they had agreed on $3.5 billion to help fight climate change by attacking deforestation, in a program that would run from 2010-2012.

Analysts were encouraged that figures are at last being put on the table, but remained cautious given the many hurdles ahead before the conference’s close. One is whether developing countries would accept the funding as sufficient and agree to the quid pro quo on emissions scrutiny. Another is what portion of the funds will come from public sources or market mechanisms under the future climate treaty—and whether the pledges entail new money or amount to greenwash, a reshuffling of aid budgets.

“This funding only flows as part of a global plan agreed to by all to solve this problem,” noted Carl Pope, executive director the Sierra Club.

“It is dangerous to rely on market forces to pay for flood defenses and drought-resistant seeds, as there are no guarantees that the money will reach the right people, in the right places, at right time,” noted Oxfam’s senior climate advisor, Robert Bailey.