Floods this year in Libya and India have killed thousands, while typhoons have lashed Asia. Climate-fueled disasters are mounting, with many diplomats noting a series of disasters in last year in Pakistan alone responsible for more than $30 billion in physical and economic losses. A recent analysis by The Washington Post and Carbon Plan, a nonprofit climate research group, showed that by 2030, 500 million people around the world, particularly in places such as South Asia and the Middle East, would be exposed to dangerous heat, raising the prospects for heat-related deaths and illnesses.
Last month, the United Nations estimated the global shortfall in funding to cope with this onslaught amounts to several trillion dollars. While Western countries have started to mobilize vast sums for their own clean energy transitions, government officials and other diplomats say poor and vulnerable nations — where the need is often greatest — are being left out.
Khadeeja Naseem, Maldives’s minister of state for environment, climate change and technology, called 2023 “a let down.” This year’s upcoming U.N. Climate Change Conference, known as COP28, is supposed to help spur progress by assessing how far the world has come at addressing climate change. Instead, Naseem said, this has been a year of falling further behind.
“What’s available is far less than what’s needed,” Naseem said in statement. “We are not able to keep up with addressing impacts, disaster after disaster.”
Friction is building at international summits leading up to the global climate talks starting on Nov. 30 in Dubai. On Thursday, environmentalists and some diplomats criticized wealthy nations for offering just $9.3 billion to replenish the Green Climate Fund, which supports climate-friendly projects in developing countries, at a pledging summit in Germany. The United States was among a handful of countries to offer no new money at all.
On Monday, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank will hold their annual meetings in Morocco, where African nations and others will press the institutions for reforms to boost their climate-related funding. The advocacy group Glasgow Actions Team has announced it will post billboards calling for climate justice in Marrakesh, while vendors in the city’s famed market will arrange their produce in a way to reinforce the message.
World Bank leaders plan to discuss on Thursday how the institution can work to alleviate poverty while putting more emphasis on funding to sustain a “livable planet,” according to a World Bank official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because she was not authorized to speak on the record.
Finding ways to raise more money, especially from the private sector, is a top priority for leaders of COP28, said the summit’s chief executive Adnan Amin. But unfulfilled funding promises from the past are a big complication — among several — for negotiators.
The United States has provided only $2 billion of the $3 billion it promised for the Green Climate Fund nine years ago. Congress has approved only $1 billion of the $11.4 billion President Biden had personally pledged to developing countries. While the United States and other rich countries vowed to provide $100 billion per year in aid from both public and private sources by 2020, the shortfall now stands at as much as $17 billion a year.
While China ranks as the world’s largest emitter of carbon dioxide, it has declined to join many of these commitments on the grounds that it remains a developing nation. And even with a $3.1 billion pledge it did make to poorer countries, it has delivered just 10 percent of that money over seven years, according to estimates from the climate think tank E3G.
And development banks have not been able to unlock trillions of private-sector financing as officials from several rich and developing countries think they should. For every dollar they provided in climate finance in 2021, they mobilized just 25 cents of private finance, according to an analysis Natural Resources Defense Council and the World Resources Institute did of publicly-available development bank data.
“There is definitely a sense of disappointment — or perhaps more than disappointment,” said Amin, who is Kenyan and previously led the International Renewable Energy Agency. “All of the financing pledges really haven’t materialized in any significant way for climate action in the Global South.”
Many of the biggest funding pledges stem from the 2009 climate talks in Copenhagen. Developing countries pushed rich countries to pay because the greenhouse gas emissions they emitted decades ago still linger in the atmosphere, fueling the extreme weather and rising seas that often hurt poor countries the most. These agreements to pay helped pave the way for the Paris climate accord years later.
But the programs have often been mired in delays and uncertainty. Former president Barack Obama helped launch the Green Climate Fund by pledging $3 billion in 2014; but two years later Republicans took the White House and Congress, and stopped U.S. payments.
Thursday’s event in Bonn, Germany, was supposed to replenish the fund for projects — which have included restoring wetlands or underwriting energy-efficiency bonds — from 2024 through 2027. The United Kingdom, Germany and France among others offered billions more. But a divided Congress stuck in the middle of a budget debate for the next fiscal year has put any further U.S. commitment on pause, the State Department said in a statement.
“The United States remains committed to the President’s pledge to increase U.S. climate finance,” the statement said.. “We know that several countries — for a range of reasons — are not in a position to pledge today, but we are hopeful that announcements from other countries will be made shortly, in the lead-up to the Dubai climate conference.”
Canada and Germany, which since 2021 have been leading international efforts on a climate finance delivery plan, said in a statement last month they are also “confident” the rich countries are on pace to meet their pledge of $100 billion a year in annual climate aid in 2023. But they also said data to prove that won’t be available until 2025.
It is still far short of the trillions required for new clean-energy development, according to the last month’s draft version of the global “stocktake,” a formal assessment of the world’s progress the U.N. is overseeing for COP28. Several of its key findings were that funding of all types need to be scaled up dramatically.
The recommendations call on countries to redirect investments still going into high-carbon projects and programs — including subsidies for fossil-fuel consumption. Those subsidies hit record highs last year, according to several watchdog groups. The world’s 20 biggest economies, one group estimated, gave more than $1 trillion in subsidies for the first time.
Spending like that has infuriated developing countries that have not been able to get Group of 20 nations to pay into a new fund for losses and damages climate disasters inflict on poor nations. Countries agreed at last year’s talks to create one, but not who should pay into it or how much, which will be a major potential sticking point in Dubai.
The fact that Western countries have ramped up subsidies for their own clean energy projects without offering international help has also infuriated the leaders of many developing nations. Last year’s nearly $370 billion Inflation Reduction Act is the largest climate bill Washington ever approved — and it included no money for foreign climate aid.
Michai Robertson, senior adviser on finance at the Alliance of Small Island States, a group of 44 islands and low-lying coastal states around the world that work in concert at international climate talks, recalled his discussion with colleagues when the bill, also called the IRA, was being debated.
“Oh, what part of the IRA talks about international climate finance? Oh, nothing,” he said. “It’s really not fair. And they can print money in their basements.”
U.S. officials have long pointed for the need of the private sector to step in, saying only investors can marshal the trillions of dollars required. And many diplomats from rich and poor nations say gridlock at international development banks is making private-sector firms more reluctant to invest.
Steven Guilbeault, Canada’s minister of environment and climate change, said governments can help with more loan guarantees and other types of financing to provide smaller amounts of government money that take the risk out of projects to entice larger sums from private investors. But the private sector remains one of the biggest laggards for now, he said.
“There is this disconnect,” Guilbeault said. “You hear [bank leaders] talk about, you know, those gazillions of dollars that are out there ready to be invested — and it’s not happening to the pace and scale we need.”