A few days before his term came to an end, President Barrack Obama sent half a billion dollars to the Green Climate Fund. This would be his final gesture as president supporting international climate action.
Now his contribution was only about 0.012% of the US federal budget or $1.53 per American. Added up with his previous donation, it would mean the US has given a billion dollars to the fund, a third of what Obama had promised.
As little as this may sound, especially for a fund that intends to provide $100 billion yearly from 2020 onwards, many are worried this will be the last time, for a while, that the US will make such a contribution — given that President Donald Trump now heads the White House.
Many are now concerned under Trump what the future status of climate finance will be, and whether developing countries like Bangladesh will receive the funds they need to effectively respond to climate change.
Trump has called climate change a “hoax” as well as a Chinese conspiracy to make US manufacturing companies less competitive. And yet he has also cited global warming as the reason behind building a sea wall on his golf course in Scotland.
On the one hand, he has threatened to withdraw from the Paris Agreement on climate change (a “bad deal”), and on the other, he has conceded to the New York Times editors that he is willing to keep an “open mind” about climate change and that there might be “some connectivity” between human activity and the warming planet.
However, his most telling action has been appointing Scott Pruitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency (equivalent to our Ministry of Environment and Forestry), a man who has not only denied climate change, has deep ties to the fossil fuel industry, but opposes the very mission of the agency he is now in charge of.
This is not to say the US has always been the most cooperative member of the international community in tackling climate change. Not only did the country fail to ratify the Kyoto Protocol of 1997 intended to bind developed countries to reduce their emissions, but during negotiations, arguably made the protocol weaker than it should have been.
But in recent years, particularly during his second term, Obama made climate change one of the key issues of his administration, both domestically and abroad. He passed the Clean Power Plan in 2014 in order to reduce the country’s greenhouse gas emissions, and played a key role in fast tracking the ratification of the Paris Agreement on climate change, one of the fastest international treaties ever to be ratified.
The Obama Administration in terms of climate finance was able to deliver about $2.7bn year over the last couple of years. This was either through bilateral agencies (such as USAID) or multilateral streams (such as the World Bank or the UN Green Climate Fund). Most of the funding went towards developing clean energy ($608 million a year) with less for adaptation ($207m a year).
Now what does this mean for a poor country like Bangladesh, vulnerable to climate change, if the US draws back its international climate spending?
According to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, the world was able to mobilise about $62bn in 2014. So in that year, the US only contributed a 0.04% (based on the $2.7bn estimate made above) to the global pool.
Bangladesh also hasn’t accessed all that much international climate finance in the last few years. The country is yet to receive $40m from the Green Climate Fund for a project approved in 2015 that will be co-financed by Bangladesh and Germany. The country also had to return $50m from the donor-based Resilience Fund that was shutdown last year.
On top of all that, the country has its own Trust Fund to support climate action. So Bangladesh is wise with its spending, it should be able to secure its own adaptation to climate change.
The real danger of a shift in US climate policy, however, is that other countries may follow suit and not follow through on their climate pledges.
Fortunately, other world leaders are already paving the way forward for future climate action. China, for instance, recently invested $361bn into expanding its renewable energy infrastructure realising non-renewables will simply not fuel the future (a perk, perhaps, of having your country’s leaders mostly from engineering and science backgrounds), creating 13 new million jobs in the process. As the second biggest economy, this sends the signal to the world that addressing climate change is both urgent and necessary.
Climate diplomacy is unlike other forms of international diplomacy, because either every one wins or every one loses. Regardless of what the US does, the rest of the international community — Bangladesh included — will have to play their part in reducing emissions and helping the most vulnerable adapt to the changes.
Meraz Mostafa is a research officer at the International Centre for Climate Change and Development. Drawing from information from Professor J Timmons Roberts and Stephan Stahr.