Behind Hillary Clinton's $100 Billion Pledge to Poor Nations

Hillary Clinton climate pledge billions photo

Photo via Top News

Big news out of Copenhagen today, as Alex reported earlier, was Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announcing that the US is willing to pledge $100 billion in aid for developing nations to fight climate change. Sure, it's a big ol' number. But what does it mean? Is the US just going to drop a bundle of cash over Bangladesh and Africa? Obviously not. Here's what the massive-looking pledge really entails. The announcement caused a stir because many felt it could help make some progress in the rich/developing (and in particular US/China) disagreements over reduction targets and aid, which have been precariously stalled out.

First, here's the meaty part of Clinton's official statement:

the United States is prepared to work with other countries toward a goal of jointly mobilizing $100 billion a year by 2020 to address the climate change needs of developing countries. We expect this funding will come from a wide variety of sources, public and private, bilateral and multilateral, including alternative sources of finance. This will include a significant focus on forestry and adaptation, particularly, again I repeat, for the poorest and most vulnerable among us.
Okay, still seems generous at first glance. But there's a lot of muddy language in there. And it certainly isn't a As Bradford Plumer explains:
The financing in question will hinge on other "major economies"--she no doubt means China, and probably India--taking their own steps to tackle carbon emissions, and doing it in a way that the rest of the world can verify. As William Chandler explained to me earlier this week, the transparency issue is one of the biggest sticking points between the United States and China.
And of course, the US isn't offering all that aid by its lonesome, even if the developing nations meet the conditions mentioned above. Plumer explains:
Clinton is not committing to $100 billion in foreign aid from industrialized governments--a lot of this money could come, for example, from private sources, like carbon-offset projects purchased under domestic cap-and-trade programs ... OECD governments currently spend $60 billion per year subsidizing fossil fuels, and they could always redirect some of that money.

... the next move is up to China, which is sending radically mixed messages right now--but the question of whether the United States would ever agree to significant climate aid to developing countries was a big unknown, so this does nudge things slightly closer to agreement. (Though, caveat time ... any U.S. aid commitment at Copenhagen will almost certainly need Congress's approval.)

So yes, there's finally some big news out of Copenhagen. But no, it far from seals the deal on a productive treaty.

More on the COP15 Talks in Copenhagen
COP15 : What's at Stake in Under 5 Minutes
COP15 : What It Means If We Fail to Prevent Climate Change

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