Fellows in the News

Changing the world is an expensive proposition. But for the representatives for the 195 countries gathered in Paris for the COP21 summit on climate change, the most daunting step might be figuring out how to split the bill. “The elephant in the room is still finance,” said Yvo de Boer, former head of the U.N. climate change body, at the start of the climate talks. And as the talks move into their final day or so, who will foot the bill for trying to stop a warming world is still one of the biggest lingering questions that will determine the success or failure of a global agreement.

The question, roughly put, boils down to how much the developed world will pay for poorer countries to adopt greener, less polluting, and more expensive energy solutions, and how much will be shouldered by developing powers such as India and China. At the summit, which aims to reach a long-term plan to curb carbon emissions and mitigate the damage done by a changing climate, even the basic definitions of “climate finance” and basic accounting practices for that money are still up for debate, as they have been since the idea was introduced at the first COP summit more than 20 years ago. While the big-picture ask of these talks is for countries to fundamentally change the way their economies grow and operate, moving away from fossil fuels, the financial question is the linchpin that dictates whether the decisions reached will stick.


Heading into the talks, developed countries had been pushing for a broader mitigation-centric definition because it would allow for projects that fall into gray areas. These include efforts such as carbon capture projects or setting up a carbon market in developing countries that do benefit the climate but are not focused on helping a country adapt more immediately to a climate that has already changed. They also don’t necessarily discourage carbon emissions.

Developing countries, on the other hand, have argued for a narrower definition, heavily focused on helping countries adapt to damage that has already occurred or is currently happening, for two main reasons. First, they want to make sure that public funds received from developed countries are allocated for projects to improve public goods, like emergency services and seed banks, explained Heather Coleman, climate change policy manager at Oxfam America. (Money for solar and wind projects would be further down the road.) Second, these nations agree that any climate finance needs to be grant-based, as opposed to in the form of loans, Coleman said, and that it be in addition to — rather than reallocated from — aid for development they were already set to receive.

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