Governments, Here’s Your Ice Bucket Challenge

Zachary Hurwitz

The United Nations’ Climate Summit kicks off this week in New York City, where it’s widely expected that Ban Ki-Moon will call on nations to make strong commitments to combat climate change. One of his asks will be for governments to make monetary pledges to the Green Climate Fund (GCF), the nascent fund created at 2009’s Copenhagen climate talks meant to channel finance from developed to developing nations to pay for climate change mitigation and adaptation.

But, given their slow approach to the GCF so far, it seems like most governments need a bucket of ice dumped on their heads to wake up to the urgency of cutting greenhouse gas emissions. 

To date, only US$3.54 billion has been pledged by 12 countries, a meager slice of the at least $100 billion that the United Nations estimates is needed by 2020. South Korea has been the biggest donor so far, contributing the bulk of money – $3.49 billion – largely because the GCF is headquartered in the city of Songdo.

Meanwhile, the Earth’s major climate polluters have been reticent to take the pledge. You can check the status of countries’ contributions provided by the World Bank Trustees. The big polluters have stayed out of taking the Green Climate Fund challenge mostly due to politics; in the United States, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives doesn’t want to approve public finance for anything related to the words "green" or "climate." Similarly, industrial lobbies in other countries have pressured politicians to continue subsidizing dirty energy sectors, sometimes in exchange for political support or campaign finance.

Okay then, here goes my best pitch: Governments of the Developed Nations of Earth, I nominate you to take the GCF ice bucket challenge – Pledge now!

Want to get involved on Sunday to call for action on climate change?
Want to get involved on Sunday to call for action on climate change?

Yet, even if every developed country in the world did pledge money to the Green Climate Fund, a second challenge remains: we must assure that the Fund doesn’t pay for dirty energy.

The main objective of the GCF is to usher in a paradigm shift to low-emissions and climate-resilient economies; yet, as of today, no policies have been enacted to exclude fossil fuels, destructive dams, bad biomass, and other dirty projects from receiving funds. 

Destructive dams are one type of project likely to attract GCF money if strong standards are not put in place. While hydropower is often portrayed as a low-carbon energy option, there is a strong track record of methane and other emissions from dam reservoirs, turbines and spillways. Recent research shows that the world's largest dams emit 104 million tons of methane every year, as the artificially flooded land creates stagnant pools of decaying vegetation and nutrients. 

Despite these emissions, hydropower made up 30% of all projects financed by the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), the predecessor to the GCF, according to Carbon Market Watch. Yet, many of these projects have been criticized for failing to reduce overall greenhouse gas budgets.

To prevent the Green Climate Fund from actually adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, the Fund’s 24 board members must support a strong exclusion list list that keeps fossil fuels, destructive dams, and other polluting energy sources out. 

Governments of the world, step up to the challenge: pledge to the Green Climate Fund and enact strong policies to make sure it doesn’t support dirty energy projects. Don’t worry – you don’t have to actually throw the ice on your head, just contribute. But do it quickly; there may be no greater opportunity – or even ice left – if you wait.

Erica Carvell has contributed research to this topic.

Friday, September 19, 2014