‘Money, it’s a gas!’ sang Pink Floyd many years ago. Today, there is nothing melodious about how financial resources are being raised and spent in helping developing countries withstand climate change, a trouble fostered by our own collective habit with greenhouse-gas emissions.
The Green Climate Fund (GCF) was established in 2009 as a last-minute agreement at the disastrous UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen. The fund, based in South Korea, is intended to transfer money from rich and polluting countries to poor and guiltless ones, in order to help the latter adapt to global warming and mitigate its effects with carbon-free energy sources.
Several years later, much of that money is still in a gaseous state – it’s all just hot air. ‘Our initial resource mobilisation period lasts from 2015 to 2018, and the Fund accepts new pledges on an ongoing basis,’ the GCF’s website states. Until now, $10.3billion has been committed by governments, but much of that sum is yet to materialise. For example President Obama pledged $3billion, but actually wired just $1billion (half of which was sent three days before leaving office). Trump appears unlikely to ever disburse the other $2billion, so the GCF is already short one fifth of its promised endowment.
True, the fund has not performed spectacularly well. Many of its 37 projects have still to be financed. Bureaucracy and paperwork hamper its operations. Boardroom politics, with dozens of countries involved, take up much of its time and energy. The new executive director, Howard Bamsey, has a hard mission to accomplish: build a future for a righteous and necessary climate finance programme. The principle of ‘common but differentiated responsibilities’ (that long-time polluters should bear a bigger burden) is enshrined in international law since 1992. Why should any country backtrack?
Even if Trump were to pay that huge moral debt, much of the GCF’s uncertainties would remain. $10billion is peanuts compared to the $238billion spent worldwide last year on clean energy. In Copenhagen, the rich side of the world agreed to provide the fund with a steady stream of the staggering sum of $100billion a year from 2020. Less than three years away, no one has the slightest idea where to get that money from.
This was published in the April 2017 edition of Geographical magazine.