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Fund for developing nations headlines global climate conference

Congress has provided no funding lately for the U.N.-backed Green Climate Fund to help low-income nations address climate change

Rachel Kyte, former climate envoy at the World Bank, says there’s urgency for a loss and damage fund.
Rachel Kyte, former climate envoy at the World Bank, says there’s urgency for a loss and damage fund. (Tony Karumba/AFP via Getty Images)

During the international climate change conference starting Thursday, nations are expected to debate the future of a fund to help countries that are responsible for a small share of global emissions respond to the increasingly severe impacts of climate change.

The United Nations Climate Change Conference, or COP28, in Dubai will revisit the idea of a loss and damage fund. It’s an idea long sought by poorer and developing nations as a way to help them cover the costs they incur adapting and responding to climate change that they played little role in creating.

At last year’s conference, nations agreed to launch the fund, with the aim of getting it up and running by the end of 2024. After negotiations went into overtime, a draft agreement worked out this month would see the fund housed at least temporarily at the World Bank, although the U.S. and others expressed some reservations over the draft.

According to the U.N. Environment Programme, the costs of planning and preparing for the effects of climate change may rise to as high as $340 billion a year globally by 2030. A proposal put forward by developing countries in August suggested the fund should be able to allocate $100 billion annually by then, although historically climate pledges from wealthier nations have fallen short.

“There’s a lot of things that may seem difficult, but they are easier than the alternative. The alternative is to try to find trillions of dollars to bail people out, to rebuild countries, to move people,” said Rachel Kyte, dean emerita at Tufts University’s Fletcher School and the World Bank’s former climate envoy, adding that she hopes that brings “urgency” to the issue of funding the loss and damage fund.

Developed countries have suggested that providing sufficient funding would require opening the fund up to donations from the private sector and humanitarian groups. There have also been ideas floated by leaders, such as Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley, to impose an international tax on fossil fuels.

However, a portion may still need to come from the governments of the largest emitting nations. The Biden administration in the past pledged $11.4 billion to small and developing nations, but was unable to deliver on the promise. In the previous two appropriations bills Congress provided no funding for the Green Climate Fund, a U.N.-backed pool of money to help low-income nations address climate change.

Any further funding would also likely face a tough headwind in a political environment in which even once noncontroversial military aid packages have been slowed by partisan and intraparty disagreements.

“We have not seen the Biden administration go to bat with Congress on this issue of climate finance,” said Rachel Cleetus, policy director with the climate and energy program at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “They’ve been very vocal around military budgets, but we have not seen them publicly really clarifying and being clear about the necessity of this international climate finance so that we can collectively solve this global challenge.”

President Joe Biden does not plan to attend the COP28 meetings, White House officials said over the weekend.

This year’s conference will also include a “global stocktake” to assess the world’s progress in meeting the Paris Agreement’s targets. Preliminary reports suggest the world is not on the right track, which will increase pressure for nations to examine the future of carbon-emitting fossil fuels.

The UNEP said in a report released Nov. 20 that current pledges under the Paris Agreement put the world on track for a global temperature increase of 2.5 to 2.9 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels this century, nearly double the target of 1.5 degrees. In the report, titled “Broken Record,” it once again warned that while there has been progress on reducing emissions, there needs to be a swifter global and economy-wide transition away from coal, oil and natural gas toward forms of renewable and zero-carbon energy. 

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