The near-mystical Green Climate Fund returns to the front page of the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow. The fund grew out of a pledge made by rich countries in 2009 to provide US $ 100 billion (Â£ 74 billion) per year in âclimate financeâ to help developing countries decarbonize their economies. So far, the amount actually raised is well below, although we could at least get there soon.
Climate finance is notoriously difficult to define. It is rarely clear how much is actually available, or how much is actually needed. So where is this money coming from, and can these richer countries even afford it, especially after the COVID-19 pandemic?
The lack of a coherent and globally accepted definition of what counts as climate finance has led to a Wild West scenario, making it impossible to calculate how many there really are and how respectful it truly is. of the environment. Governments and fund managers can associate âgreenâ labels with investments in new airports or âgreenâ funds with significant holdings in fossil fuel companies. Some of this is likely to be blatant greenwash. But some of them simply reflect the complexity of the real world: if the fossil fuel majors are raising funds to decarbonize their portfolios by building wind and solar farms, should that be considered “green”?
There are three broad categories of climate finance. The first is debt, which can be public (states issuing bonds) or private (companies issuing bonds). A second category comes from shares and private capital. This can take many forms, but often includes âgreen fundsâ that filter out polluting businesses and industries.
The last category, and which is of major interest at COP26, is the role of international aid in providing finance to help developing countries decarbonize – for example by phasing out coal, developing low-carbon transport or by restoring ecosystems such as mangroves that buffer against floods and storms.
In principle, climate-focused international assistance can take the form of grants, loans or direct investment and insurance, each with varying degrees of conditionality. In practice, however, these categories are very controversial. Take, for example, a hypothetical loan of US $ 50 million to India for a new solar farm, which must be repaid with $ 10 million in interest. From a US perspective, US $ 50 million in climate finance has been provided. From India’s perspective, she received US $ 50 million but will ultimately send US $ 60 million to the United States, which begs the question of who is funding whom.
What is the Green Climate Fund and how important is it?
At COP15 in Copenhagen in 2009, rich countries pledged to provide US $ 100 billion per year by 2020, which led to the official creation in 2010 of the Green Climate Fund to support developing economies to fight climate change. Whichever measure or definition of climate finance you use, we clearly haven’t hit the US $ 100 billion per year target yet. This figure will instead be reached in 2023 according to the latest estimates, although some at COP26 are more optimistic: both EU Ursula von Leyden and US climate envoy John Kerry have said the target will be reached in 2022.
However, because there is no clear definition of what counts as climate finance, there are huge variations in the estimates of what has been committed so far. The OECD estimate (on which the COP26 climate finance plan is based) is at the high end, while Oxfam estimates that just over a fifth of what has been promise has materialized so far.
How much does it really take
Estimates of the amount of finance needed to truly decarbonise the global economy range from $ 50,000 to $ 90 trillion. With a trillion out of a trillion, that US $ 100 billion everyone is referring to is just a decimal point.
It is also almost impossible to determine exactly how much green funding will be needed, as the total amount required depends on where the money is going and how quickly we spend it. Early investments in new technologies generate rapid cost reductions and will reduce asset lock-up (wasted investments in already obsolete carbon-intensive infrastructure). Any further delay simply slows down innovation and worsens the climate crisis.
Climate change will shrink the economies of rich, poor, hot and cold countries and make it more difficult and costly to raise the funds needed for decarbonization in the future. The cost of early action is much less than the cost of deferred action.
We have just seen a comprehensive and coordinated political response to the pandemic, with over US $ 16 trillion in government support deployed around the world (and at blazing fast speed). Climate change will require the same coordinated response, and the pandemic response shows that significant decarbonization funding can be mobilized relatively quickly.
Ultimately, mobilizing climate finance is a win-win solution for developed and developing economies. And in the context of what will really be needed to tackle climate change, that US $ 100 billion is really just a distraction.
This story is part of The Conversation’s coverage of COP26, the Glasgow climate conference, by experts around the world.
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