Leaders Join France’s Macron to Discuss Climate Cash Crunch

Windmill near the COP23 climate meeting in Bonn, Germany with coal plant in the background
A coal-burning power plant steams behind wind generators in Gelsenkirchen, Germany while the 23rd UN Conference of the Parties (COP) climate talks end in Bonn, Germany, Friday, Nov. 17, 2017. Photo: Martin Meissner/AP

French President Emmanuel Macron gathered world leaders Tuesday to talk about climate finance, two years to the day since 195 nations adopted the Paris Agreement to stave off worst-case-scenario global warming.

Without trillions of dollars of investment in clean energy, the pact’s goal to keep global warming below two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) over pre-industrial levels will remain a pipe dream, observers and participants warned.

“We hope that this conference will be action first thing, particularly on providing financial support for the developing countries and small island developing countries and vulnerable countries,” former United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon told AFP ahead of the summit.

U.N. climate chief Patricia Espinosa warned political action “will not be enough if we do not update and reset the global finance architecture and make all development low-emission, resilient, and sustainable.”

“We see some movement… but climate consideration must now be part of all private sector decisions,” she added.

After the Paris Agreement was adopted in 2015 to cheers and champagne, helped over the finish line by then U.S. president Barack Obama, his successor Donald Trump has cast a long shadow over the process, withdrawing political support and finance.

Mr. Trump, who has called climate change a “hoax”, announced in June the United States would pull out of the Paris pact, which had taken nearly 200 nations more than two decades to negotiate.

The U.S. is the only country to reject the agreement.

Mr. Macron said Monday he hoped Mr. Trump would “change his mind,” and awarded grants to 18 climate scientists, 13 of them from American universities, to pursue their research in France to “Make Our Planet Great Again” – a play on the American president’s campaign slogan “Make America Great Again.”

Money has long been a sore point in the U.N. climate process, with developing nations insisting on financial assistance to help them make the costly move to less-polluting energy sources, and to shore up defences against climate change-induced superstorms, mega-droughts and land-gobbling sea level rise.

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Mr. Trump has asked Congress to slash the climate research budgets of federal agencies – threatening a loss of billions of dollars and thousands of jobs.

The Trump administration would also not fulfil U.S. climate finance commitments, including an outstanding $2 billion out of $3 billion it had pledged towards the Green Climate Fund.

“The missing piece of the jigsaw is the funding to help the world’s poorer countries access clean energy so they don’t follow the fossil fuel-powered path of the rich world,” said Mohamed Adow of Christian Aid, which represents poor country interests at the U.N. climate forum.

In the absence of former climate champion Mr. Obama, American businesses, regions and local government leaders have reiterated their commitment to decarbonization, and are represented in Paris by the likes of former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, ex-governor of California Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Microsoft founder Bill Gates.

“It doesn’t matter that Donald Trump backed out of the Paris Agreement, because the private sector didn’t drop out, the public sector didn’t drop out, universities didn’t drop out, no one dropped out,” Mr. Schwarzenegger, now the face of the R20 network of sub-national climate actors, said in Paris Monday.

“Don’t worry about any of that, we are the subnational level, we’re going to pick up the slack.”

Among the leaders in attendance at Tuesday’s summit will be U.N. chief Antonio Guterres, World Bank President Jim Yong Kim, Mexico’s Enrique Pena Nieto, Theresa May of Britain, Spain’s Mariano Rajoy, and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.

Mr. Trump was not invited to Tuesday’s gathering, and the U.S. – the world’s biggest historical emitter of planet-warming greenhouse gases – will be represented by an embassy official.

Also absent will be the leaders of major polluters China, India, Brazil, Russia and Canada, as well as Germany’s Angela Merkel among European Union members.

Rich nations pledged in 2009 to muster $100 billion per year in climate finance for developing nations from 2020.

On 2015 trends, total public financing would reach about $67 billion by that date, according to a report of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.

The International Energy Agency estimates that investments of some $3.5 trillion per year in the energy sector will be needed to 2050 to stay under the 2 C limit – double current spending.

“I urge the leaders (in Paris) to agree on a programme at the latest by next year, as was promised – how to mobilise $100 billion which will be support for vulnerable countries from 2020, and thereafter every year,” said Mr. Ban.

“This is huge but I think it can be done if there is the political will.

“Second, in addition to this public funding there should be much more money, maybe in the amount of trillions of dollars, through globally managed banks or capital markets or institutional investors for infrastructure to be eco-friendly and climate-resilient.”