Canada and climate finance: The price is most definitely not right

Canada and climate finance: The price is most definitely not right

By Bronwen Tucker

As originally posted on on Dec. 4th 2014

In climate talks past, finance was a bit of a pariah at the table, labelled as a distraction from the real business of mitigation and adaptation. But in the lead-up to the Paris treaty, it has become incredibly important because the goal is to have an agreement with binding commitments from all countries, not just the rich ones as in Kyoto. If Global South countries are going to commit to a treaty, they have to be feel secure they can afford to commit to a development trajectory that's low-carbon.

More importantly, robust climate finance is also what's fair. The countries on the hook to contribute are the ones that have caused the vast majority of the emissions that backed us into this climate crisis in the first place, long after the consequences were understood. And finally, the issue is coming into the limelight, having been labelled by many as one of the most important elements to hash out in Lima.

The Cancun and Copenhagen UNFCCC meetings produced agreements for developed countries to be contributing $100 billion USD each year to climate finance by 2020. At the end of 2014, we're at $9.95 billion USD, and a far cry from that goal, though there has been a lot of momentum in the past few months and countries are very close to meeting an interim goal of $10 billion.

As Oxfam points out in their new report, because the $100 billion target is a collective promise there's no sense of accountability to reach the goal, and there are not yet rules on what counts as a contribution (public? private? tied aid? clean coal? Worryingly, it's all still up for debate). $100 billion USD a year is also not enough to cover adaptation or mitigation, let alone both.

Putting money on the table is the one aspect of climate policy in which Canada has not been a complete international embarrassment in the last few years. After saying we would not be contributing, last month our government made a pledge of $300 million CAD to the Green Climate Fund, which is intended to be the primary mechanism for distributing climate finance post-Kyoto. This actually puts us 11th out of wealthy countries when contributions to the $100 billion goal are considered at a per-capita level.

But a quick pay-off to some of the victims of the carbon-palooza our country is currently having doesn't absolve us of our climate finance responsibilities -- not even a little bit. It's a tiny amount relative to other items the government spends money on, such as the $1.3 billion we spend each year in direct subsidies for the oil and gas sector.

And Canada has not shown any serious support for stronger climate finance in the future with its action at COP 20 so far. On Wednesday, amongst pleas from Global South countries for the negotiations to refocus on key details that would allow climate finance to become legally binding and concretely defined by next year, our negotiator's comments only served to distract the discussion. Worse, he spoke in support of Switzerland's proposal that no legally binding commitments on finance are made. Considering that Switzerland's proposal was delivered as a threat -- that they would actively block progress if vulnerable countries kept on pressing for legally binding finance -- this was a particularly upsetting move.

So despite Canada's modest commitment to climate finance last month, with our government acting to prevent any agreements that would secure predictable and sufficient finance for vulnerable countries, it's clear this is just another area of Canadian climate policy that needs some serious reform.