Will the US Stand by its Climate Aid Promises?

As this month’s international climate negotiations unfold in Cancun, Mexico, more than twenty nonprofits and faith groups devoted to environmental and social issues have called on the Obama administration to honor a pledge made by industrialized countries last year to help the developing world adapt to and mitigate the effects of climate change. At last year’s climate meetings in Copenhagen, industrialized nations including the United States promised to raise $100 billion per year to devote to this cause by the year 2020.

Yet with a new Congress coming to power next year, there is reason to fear President Obama may be tempted to backtrack on his previous commitment. A diverse assortment of groups has banded together to prevent this from happening; this alliance itself suggests just how broad-based is the support for helping the developing world develop clean energy and deal with climate change. In addition to major environmental groups like Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, organizations like Oxfam and Jubilee—which are normally associated with poverty and international justice campaigns, have joined in the effort.

This reinforces a point I’ve been trying to drive home in my last couple of posts for Justmeans: addressing climate change is as much about protecting low-income countries and the world’s poor as it is about preserving the planet. Not only have the world’s least developed nations have contributed relatively little to climate change—many also lack the economic resources to deal with the effects of a global warming and grow their economies in the most sustainable way possible. Industrialized countries can help by providing some of the climate adaptation and mitigation funds the developing world so desperately needs.

It is in the self-interest of countries like the United States to step up to the plate. After all, enabling the world’s growing economies to better develop their renewable energy resources will make it easier to avoid catastrophic climate change on a global scale. If developing countries know they can get this kind of help, there will be less temptation for them to power their economies with fossil fuels while making climate change even worse. The United States, which may sustain the most costly economic damage related to climate change of any country, will benefit in the end.

At least some developing countries have already shown that when given a helping hand from the industrialized world, they are willing to build a low-carbon economy. Ecuador, for example, is entering into an innovative agreement with European countries that have promised to fund low-carbon economic development in this tropical South American nation, in exchange for Ecuador’s promise to preserve one of the most biodiverse tracts of rainforest and keep 846 million barrels of oil in the ground.

Dozens of other developing nations might be able to follow in Ecuador’s footsteps, partnering with industrialized countries to develop renewable energy economies while preparing residents to deal with the immediate impacts of climate change. The critical question is whether countries like the United States will come forward with the needed funds. By holding fast to promises they made in Copenhagen, major developed countries can help developing countries grow their economies without becoming major carbon emitters themselves. In Cancun, the United States and other countries have a chance to display the kind of leadership needed if the world is to make the socially just transition to a low-carbon economy possible.

Photo credit: Patrick Lentz