Does the US Owe a Climate Debt?
One of the most hotly contested issues at Copenhagen is the question of what, if anything, the US and other industrialized countries owe the nations least responsible for the accumulation of planet-warming gases in the atmosphere.
The United States has said that over the next three years it will commit $1.4 billion annually to a $10 billion short-term fund intended to help developing nations cope with the effects of climate change. The European Union volunteered last week to chip in $3 billion.
But that still leaves the question of how much rich nations will pony up over the long haul. The United Nations estimates that poor countries will need as much as $170 billion per year to adapt to climate change—$50 billion more than developed countries spent on aid in 2008. Other development groups have estimated that this task could cost two to three times that much. So far, rich countries have indicated that they're only prepared to offer around $100 billion.
Developing nations, many of which are especially vulnerable to climate change, have balked at the prospect that Copenhagen may not produce a sizeable financial commitment from the countries that have contributed most to the warming of the planet. Lumumba Stanislaus Di-Aping, the Sudanese chairman of the Group of 77, the bloc of least-developed nations, suggested on Thursday that an appropriate fund should total around $200 billion. On Friday his estimate had risen to $400 billion. Dessima Williams of Grenada, who chairs the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), has suggested a figure in the range of 1.5 percent of the GDP of developed nations. "It must be responsive to the damage that's already done," said Williams.
Whatever the number, the prevailing sentiment in the developing world is that the United States and other big polluters must pay up. "It was not us who put the waste in the atmosphere, but we are the first to suffer from that," said Antonio Lima, a delegate from Cape Verde and the vice president of AOSIS. "Those who put the waste in the atmosphere have to clean it." But negotiators for the most vulnerable nations worry that the matter of climate aid will not be adequately addressed. "We are afraid they are not going to take care of us in this process," Lima said.