Are rich countries 'glossing over' their climate finance obligations?

Environmental activists block traffic as part of protests seeking to pressure U.S. politicians to fight climate change in Washington, D.C. Photo by: REUTERS / Kevin Lamarque

WASHINGTON — As the Green Climate Fund gears up for the start of its replenishment conference in Paris on Thursday, civil society groups are warning that rich countries should not distract from their climate finance obligations with claims about broadening the fund’s donor base.

GCF is the main funding instrument for implementing the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, and its primary purpose is to support ambitious climate action in low- and middle-income countries with financial assistance from high-income countries. Instead of increasing their own contributions enough to fulfill that obligation, though, rich countries have been celebrating relatively small contributions from new donors that are not actually required to contribute to GCF under the terms of the Paris climate agreement, according to climate advocates.

“Ordinarily we would welcome this call for broadening the base. The need is very great, so all that can contribute should contribute,” Lidy Nacpil, coordinator of the Asian Peoples Movement on Debt and Development, told reporters on a phone briefing on Wednesday.

“Unfortunately though, the call for broadening the base has also been used as a way of kind of glossing over the fact that those that are obligated to contribute are contributing only a fraction of what they’re supposed to contribute and some are not contributing at all,” Nacpil said.

The Paris Agreement requires that rich countries commit $100 billion in climate finance per year for LMICs to use for mitigation and adaptation. Some of GCF’s small donors include Indonesia, Vietnam, and Mongolia. While their contributions are welcome, Nacpil said, it is not addressing the heart of the climate finance issue, which is the lack of funding flowing from rich countries responsible for climate change.

“It’s like sometimes a weird circus, the big fuss they [rich countries] make about other countries contributing that are not obliged to contribute at all,” Nacpil said. “The ‘broadening the base’ call, if it was mainly about broadening the base of countries that are supposed to contribute, that indeed is a very welcome call.”

Yannick Glemarec, GCF’s executive director, told Devex the fund’s goal is to raise at least as much money during this replenishment as it did during the initial contribution round in 2014. That would put the replenishment target at $9.3 billion, he said, of which $7.5 billion has so far been pledged.

Given that two of GCF’s major contributors, the United States — which pledged $3 billion during the initial contribution — and Australia, which will not be contributing to this replenishment, Glemarec said reaching that goal would be “a major achievement.”

“If we succeed in at least matching the 2014 replenishment, this will have been made possible thanks to the fact that a number of countries have decided to double their initial contribution,” he said.

So far 16 donors have announced their contributions, and several of them — Germany, United Kingdom, France, Norway, Sweden, and Denmark — have answered a call to double their initial contributions. Those increased pledges are in part a response to the Trump administration’s decision to withhold support.

Civil society groups have called on high-income donors to contribute at least $15 billion to GCF over the next four years. They are pointing to a project pipeline overview that the GCF’s secretariat put together, which describes $15 billion in projects that are already at some stage of development and seeking GCF support, according to Jan Kowalzig, senior policy adviser for climate change at Oxfam Germany.

“The next two days will show us if the remaining countries will fill that gap, or if some of the countries that have made announcements adjust their pledges upwards,” Kowalzig told reporters.

Significant attention will be on Japan, which has not yet announced its pledge, but which previously contributed $1.5 billion to the fund.

The GCF replenishment will help to set the stage for the 25th Conference of Parties, or COP25, in Santiago, Chile, in December. It will also send a strong signal about whether rich countries are serious about meeting the $100 billion 2020 target they agreed to in Paris in 2015.

“This could be an early indication — are countries ready to step up, or are they not?” Kowalzig said.

Update, Oct. 24, 2019: This story updated to clarify that civil society groups have called on high-income countries to increase their climate finance contributions.

About the author

  • Michael Igoe

    Michael Igoe is a Senior Reporter with Devex, based in Washington, D.C. He covers U.S. foreign aid, global health, climate change, and development finance. Prior to joining Devex, Michael researched water management and climate change adaptation in post-Soviet Central Asia, where he also wrote for EurasiaNet. Michael earned his bachelor's degree from Bowdoin College, where he majored in Russian, and his master’s degree from the University of Montana, where he studied international conservation and development.