The Heat Is On: Green Climate Fund in Danger in Durban

"Governments must find ways -- now -- to mobilize resources up to the $100 billion per annum pledged." -- U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon on the Green Climate Fund

Monday marked the beginning of the Seventeenth Conference of the Parties (COP 17) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), two weeks of international climate talks held in Durban, South Africa. Given the continuing difficulty in getting the world's biggest emitters -- China, the United States, the European Union, India and Russia being the top 5 -- to agree on greenhouse gas reduction schemes, many are skeptical of what the Durban talks can accomplish.

Currently, the world is failing to reduce CO2 emissions to a level that would prevent a rise in global surface temperature by 2 degrees Celsius, the level at which the majority of scientists agree would result in the worst effects of climate change. A failure to get some kind of binding legal agreement between the parties in Durban will keep the world on this dangerous path.


The skeptics got another reason to lament when the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) unveiled their Statement on the Status of the Global Climate at the opening of the talks. According to the report, the 13 warmest years on record have all occurred in the 15 years since 1997. Additionally, the WMO reported that the volume of Arctic sea ice in 2011 was the lowest on record and its extent was the second lowest. The extent and volume of sea ice is a clear marker of global warming, and the current status rings a death knell for polar bears, who have been struggling mightily to survive as their critical habitat melts into the sea.

"Our science is solid and it proves unequivocally that the world is warming and that this warming is due to human activities," said WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud. "Concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere have reached new highs," he warned. "They are very rapidly approaching levels consistent with a 2 to 2.4 degree Centigrade rise in average global temperatures, which scientists believe could trigger far reaching and irreversible changes in our Earth, biosphere and oceans."


Though expectations in Durban are low, there had been some hope for the implementation of the Green Climate Fund, a financial vehicle conceived at the 15th Conference of the Parties (COP15) at the Copenhagen Summit in December 2009 meant to assist developing countries with climate change mitigation and adaptation. Last year, countries agreed in theory to contribute up to USD 100 billion annually by 2020 to power the fund.

According to the Copenhagen Accord, the Green Climate Fund was "established as an operating entity of the financial mechanism of the Convention to support projects, programme, policies and other activities in developing countries related to mitigation including REDD-plus, adaptation, capacity-building, technology development and transfer."


Earlier this month, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon urged world leaders to get serious about combating climate change and muster the political will to finance the fund. "Governments must find ways -- now -- to mobilize resources up to the $100 billion per annum pledged," he said. "An empty shell is not sufficient."

But many fear that the Durban talks will result in an empty shell, particularly following last week's announcement by the United States that it will not sign the deal. Details are unclear, but the Financial Times reported that Todd Stern, the U.S. special envoy for climate change, said that America is "a strong supporter of the basic concept" but views its design as "a little bit problematic." Saudi Arabia has also refused to sign on.

The U.S. has been hesitant to join international climate deals, having never ratified the Kyoto Protocol, which was adopted in 1997 and entered into force in 2005, keeping 37 rich countries legally bound to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. An opponent of Kyoto, President George W. Bush said that the American economy was more important than dealing with global warming. With the presidential election looming in a weak economy, President Obama is likely to hold his predecessor's stance. When he was elected, Obama committed to "a new chapter in America’s leadership on climate change," yet in his last State of the Union address, climate wasn't mentioned once.

While the U.S. and Saudi Arabia may have issues with the design of the Green Climate Fund, some legally binding commitment must be made at Durban, even if it does not meet the USD 100 billion target. If fixes to the plan need to be made, they should be made as we go. As the medieval German theologian Meister Eckhart noted, "The price of inaction is far greater than the cost of making a mistake."


Ibid., 1.

image: evilnick, Flickr Creative Commons