Obama’s swan song: U.S. disburses $500 million to Green Climate Fund

In one of President Barack Obama’s final acts in office, the State Department announced on Tuesday that it had made its second installment payment of $500 million to the Green Climate Fund – which is notable because the incoming administration opposes the fund.

“The Green Climate Fund is a critical tool that helps catalyze billions of dollars in public and private investment in countries dealing not only with the challenges of climate change, but the immense economic opportunities that are embedded in the transition to a lower carbon economy,” said State Department Spokesman John Kirby at a press briefing. “The United States is pleased to have played a leading role in the establishment of the GCF.”

Obama pledged $3 billion to the fund in the run-up to the adoption of the Paris climate agreement. The first $500 million payment was made in March 2016. Activists launched a petition in December urging the administration to fulfill its pledge before President-elect Donald Trump takes office. Trump said during the course of his campaign that he would leave the Paris agreement and cease payments for the Green Climate Fund if elected.

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The petition warned that Trump’s policies “threaten disaster for people and the planet.” More than 120 organizations and 90,000 people joined petition sponsor Corporate Accountability International in pressuring Obama. They celebrated Tuesday’s payment announcement, despite the fact that $2 billion remains unpaid.

“The Obama administration is refusing to let President-elect Trump’s posse of oil barons and climate deniers dictate how the world responds to the climate crisis,” Tamar Lawrence-Samuel of Corporate Accountability International said in a statement. “Tens of thousands of people around the world called on President Obama to step up before Trump takes the keys of our government and tries to reverse decades of climate progress. This victory is the climate justice movement’s opening salvo to the Trump presidency. And we’re not going away.”

There is uncertainty about what the Trump administration will do about climate change. The strong rhetoric during the campaign trail softened in interviews after the election. Trump told the New York Times editorial board that he will keep an “open mind” to the Paris agreement and look at the details closely.

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And he admitted that climate change was a possible problem created by humans. However, the appointment of climate change denier Scott Pruitt to lead the Environmental Protection Agency increased concerns about how the administration may act. That is why members of Congress supportive of taking action on climate change celebrated the payment and took the opportunity to criticize the incoming administration.

“Whether President-elect Trump and his nominees are willing to admit it, climate change directly impacts our national security and our economy,” Sen. Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., said in a statement. “From America to Zimbabwe, the impacts of climate change are already devastating people around the world, especially the poorest. Working together with other countries to implement global solutions to global warming will continue U.S. leadership and ensure that all countries are doing their fair share to combat the problem.” 

Obama transferred the $1 billion to the Green Climate Fund this year using executive powers. It allowed him to act alone, but gives Trump the same power to skip future payments.

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Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]humanosphere.org.