Cop28: US pledge of $17.5m to climate fund is 'paltry and shameful', activist says

Country's contribution to loss and damage fund is insulting and shows lack of accountability, says senior figure from climate group

Activists at Cop27 in Egypt call for nations to pay up for loss and damage caused by climate change. AP
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The US contribution towards the loss and damage fund agreed to on the opening day of Cop28 has been criticised for being much smaller than what it needs to be.

A US climate group called Washington's $17.5 million commitment to the fund “insulting”, highlighting that island nations have requested “at least $100 billion” per year over the first four years.

The contribution from the US pales into comparison to other nations: the UAE immediately offered $100 million to the fund, while the UK put in £60 million ($75 million).

“The amount pledged by the United States is insulting,” Bineshi Albert, co-executive director of the US-based Climate Justice Alliance, said in a statement on Friday.

“It is a paltry, shameful amount of money that shows the US is completely uninterested in prioritising or being accountable to the climate impacts frontline communities are facing.”

Dr Sultan Al Jaber, Cop28 President, earlier this year blamed wealthier nations’ failure to fulfil a long-standing, $100 billion-a-year commitment in climate finance assistance to developing countries, arguing that delays were “holding up” progress.

Between 3.3 billion to 3.6 billion people live in areas that are highly vulnerable to climate change. A 2022 report from Oxfam found that over the past 20 years, global funding needed for extreme weather events has increased by 800 per cent.

At the 2022 Cop27 conference in Sharm El Sheikh, the US was among the countries that agreed to establish a “loss and damage” fund to support low-income countries that carry a disproportionate climate change burden compared to their emissions output.

The US is the world's second worst carbon emitter after China and is historically the nation most responsible for carbon emissions.

One study on carbon inequalities from the University of Leeds found the US holds the “single largest climate debt” to affected countries, at $2.6 trillion per year, on average, 15 per cent of its 2018 gross domestic product.

Even at China’s 2021 rate of 11.47 gigatonnes of carbon emissions per year, “it would take roughly 15 years to match the US historical contribution”, according to research from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

And at India’s 2021 rate of 2.71 gigatonnes per year, “it would take about 135 years to catch up to the United States”.

Reparations were ruled out

US Special Climate Envoy John Kerry emphatically rejected the idea of paying reparations to climate change-affected nations, but endorsed the loss and damage fund as a humanitarian donation.

“I think our country is enriched, and our civilisation is better for the fact that we do try to help people out in other places when they're in trouble,” Mr Kerry told the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee in July.

Mr Kerry, speaking from Dubai this week as Cop28 kicked off, told reporters that the current agreement “the way it’s designed – will meet the needs of vulnerable countries”, signalling that Washington was working with its partners “to develop a framework that’s going to accelerate some of the activities that need to be engaged”.

That includes a focus on meeting “recovery needs, damages from storms, hurricanes, in some cases moving people out of harm’s way, early warning of storms”.

But he again emphasised on Monday that paying into the loss and damage fund “does not express any expression of liability and compensation”.

Ms Albert also criticised Washington's efforts to ensure contributions to the fund would be voluntary.

“This is another clear sign that the US does not take responsibility for its harmful past actions nor does it consider the needs of the most impacted and marginalised communities seriously,” she said.

And the $17.5 million pledge pales in comparison to Washington's fossil fuel industry subsidies, with some estimates showing American taxpayers pay about $20 billion every year to the fossil fuel industry.

That has drawn ire from Democrats in Congress, with Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, earlier this year calling the fossil fuel “cash subsidy is both big and wrong”.

But “it’s not just the US”, Mr Whitehouse emphasised.

According to the International Energy Agency, fossil fuel handouts hit a global high of $1 trillion in 2022 – “the same year Big Oil pulled in a record $4 trillion of income”, Mr Whitehouse said.

Updated: December 01, 2023, 5:57 PM