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The US promised billions to fight climate change. Then came the war in Ukraine

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Travelers make their way through a water-filled road after a heavy rain in Dhaka.  Bangladesh is one of many countries struggling to protect its inhabitants from the effects of climate change.

Travelers make their way through a water-filled road after a heavy rain in Dhaka. Bangladesh is one of many countries struggling to protect its inhabitants from the effects of climate change.

Munir Uz Zaman / AFP via Getty Images

The United States owes billions of dollars in climate funding to developing countries. But the war in Ukraine is delaying payments and slowing U.S. progress to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and this has made leaders in low-income and less affluent countries feel frustrated and forgotten.

“Effectively, the US owes the rest a climate debt to pay off,” he says Mohamed Adow, the leader of PowerShift Africa, a coalition that advocates for climate policy across the continent. “Our continent is effectively on the front line and we are paying for the damage [of] these climate polluters ”.

In 2021, the US promised to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions this decade and send overdue money to help developing countries move to cleaner energy and protect residents from rising seas, heat waves, food instability and other dangerous climatic effects.

whether The US followsit is still possible that global temperatures will not rise catastrophically and prevent tens of millions of unnecessary deaths, according to scientists and economists.

But the Russian invasion of Ukraine could delay many US promises. Months later renewing its commitments at the international climate conference in Glasgow, the US did not pass any major climate legislation. Biden administration ka borders turned back for domestic oil and gas drilling to cope with rising energy prices. This spring, Congress split less than a third for the international climate financing it promised, even though it rushed billions of dollars in military aid to Ukraine.

“It’s very depressing and disturbing,” he says Alejandra Lopez, a climate policy expert with Transforma, a Colombian-based environmental institute. “I do not want to be disrespectful. [The war] it’s a big crisis, “she says.” But even if it does [war] “It’s a very scary scenario, climate change continues to be more scary.”

The lack of urgent action by the world’s richest economy and the country most to blame for climate change due to historical greenhouse gas emissions is particularly disappointing for developing countries that are disproportionately suffering from global warming. And where every day delay puts more people at risk.

By 2030, climate change could push nearly 5.8 million people into extreme poverty in Latin America and the Caribbean. according to the World Bank. The prognosis is even more dire for island nations that are on track to be completely underwater by the middle of the century, and for cities in Southeast Asia, Africa and the Middle East, where the heat and rising seas will force millions of people to flee. migrate to survive.

“We have already lost so many lives due to climate change,” says Adow. “Whether it is drought, flood, cyclone, our continent has paid a heavy price. This is deeply unfair.”

The US owes billions of dollars to developing countries

The United States owes billions of dollars in climate funding to less affluent countries. It is not charity, but something similar to reparations. The idea is that countries that were industrialized in the early to mid-twentieth century became partially rich by burning oil, gas, and coal. Climate change driven by emissions from early industrialization poses the greatest threat to developing countries, which have contributed far less to global warming.

In the global climate talks, countries determined that part of that wealth should now be used to build a cleaner global economy and protect low-income countries from the effects of a hotter Earth. Under the 2015 Paris agreement, developed countries including the US, Canada, Australia, Japan and European countries agreed to pay $ 100 billion annually to developing countries.

“This is the responsibility of developed countries because their emissions are the main driver of climate change that the world is experiencing today, a disproportionate burden of which is falling on developing countries,” he says. Rachel Cleetusan international climate policy expert for the Union of Concerned Scientists, a US science advocacy group

But those $ 100 billion have never been fully realized. In 2018, the most recent year for which there is complete data, contributions were light less than $ 80 billionpartly because the US contributed so little.

Under the Obama administration, the US delivered just $ 1 billion, which was about a third of what it had pledged under the Paris climate deal. Subsequently, the Trump administration canceled US membership in the deal altogether.

The Biden administration said it would live up to past promises by contributing more than $ 11 billion a year to developing countries by 2024. The first step toward that goal came last fall, when the US announced it would sent $ 3.1 billion to developing countries vulnerable to climate change.

Then, in March, Congress split only $ 1 billion in international climate financing.

“When Biden came to office, he was a great source of hope,” says Adow of PowerShift Africa. “I would say that part of that hope was wrong. He talked about a good game, but he did not have much restraint. And now we see billions being poured into the war in Ukraine.”

In March, the US sent more than $ 13 billion for Ukraineand an addition $ 40 billion support is making its way through Congress.

A State Department spokesman told NPR that U.S. international climate funding failed this year, but that the U.S. is nonetheless committed to increasing its climate support for developing countries.

The Russian invasion is affecting US climate policy in many ways

There are many ways the war in Ukraine is delaying US action on climate change, according to climate economists. The Russian occupation is contributing to global economic inflation, which fuels opposition to the major infrastructure legislation stuck in Congress. This legislation would help the U.S. meet its emissions targets by investing in electric vehicles, solar and wind energy, and energy-efficient buildings.

Higher gasoline prices also drove the Biden administration encourage US fossil fuel companies to produce more oil and gas.

And then there is the problem of mental bandwidth. “The biggest risk to U.S. climate action is just a lack of focus and attention,” he says. Trevor Houser“Politicians in every country have limited attention and the war in Ukraine is a giant crisis that requires a lot of focus and attention,” said a climate analyst at the Rhodium Group in the US.

Houser says the money going to Ukraine is not being taken away directly from climate initiatives. But the focus on war and its effects is diverting American policymakers from urgent work to reduce emissions and adapt to climate change around the world.

“One of the big challenges of the climate is that [climate change] has always been seen by policymakers as the issue of tomorrow, “says Houser.” It’s always the issue where you can come back later. “

This week, United Nations Climate Envoy Mark Carney warned that the war in Ukraine should not delay action to reign in global warming, and cited the worsening effects of climate change on people living in developing countries.

This is a key moment for climate investment

Developing countries are acutely feeling the effects of missing money as climate change is causing more severe floods, cyclones, droughts, fires and heat waves around the world.

Villagers stand in a field of dried corn in Kenya in March.  The United Nations agency said the Horn of Africa is experiencing one of the worst droughts in recent history.  Climate change is triggering more severe droughts worldwide.

Dong Jianghui / Xinhua News Agency through Getty Images

Recent disasters have highlighted the human cost. In April, hundreds of people died from heat waves caused by climate change in India and Pakistan and floods in South Africa. Ruthless heat and drought in the Middle East and Central Africa are causing crop damage and famine. And countries across Latin America are preparing for another devastating hurricane season without adequate infrastructure to protect people in coastal areas.

Projects are underway to protect people in the US from such dangers. For example, public funds are being paid to empower coastal cities to manage floods, improve hurricane early warning systems, build cooling centers to protect people on hot days, help people rebuild homes. destroyed by fires and to pay farmers when crops fail due to drought.

But in developing countries, many such projects await funding. For example, says Lopez, in Latin America there is a great need for public health infrastructure to deal with diseases that will be more prevalent as the Earth warms. Countries also need physical infrastructure to protect people from hurricanes and reduce urban emissions from cars and trucks.

However, such projects require public funding. And many developing countries lack domestic tax revenues to fund these changes and protections themselves. “They already know how to do it, but they do not have the money to invest,” says Lopez.

Such an investment could also help reduce global greenhouse gas emissions. Many developing countries have abundant renewable energy and undeveloped oil and gas. If people hope that global temperatures do not rise above the critical threshold of 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) set by scientists, countries should stop investing in the further development of fossil fuels. according to International Energy Agency.

“This continent is extremely blessed with renewable energy,” says Adow, referring to Africa’s largely undeveloped wind, solar and geothermal resources. According to a last report from the United Nations.

“We will effectively empower this continent and lift people out of poverty without increasing emissions,” he says. “We just need investment.”

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