17th Sep 2021

EU holds back on climate funds for poor countries

  • Offers on climate adaptation and mitigation funds for the developing world are still nowhere in sight (Photo: Tom Jensen/

European leaders have once again delayed any decision on committing money for developing countries to help them mitigate carbon emissions and adapt to an already rapidly changing climate.

In Brussels for their summer summit, European Union premiers and presidents have pushed back any decision until October on the funds, widely agreed to be the linchpin for any agreement between the developed world and the developing world at the United Nations climate change meeting in Copenhagen in December.

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The expected grand bargain in Copenhagen is that in return for emerging economies committing to reducing their carbon emissions, the global north must commit substantial funds for carbon mitigation and climate adaptation in the third world.

But the EU is extremely reluctant to put any money on the table, believing it to be, like a poker game, a bad negotiating tactic to show its hand too soon. Over the last six months, EU ministers and leaders have repeatedly declined from making any commitment with clear figures.

Green groups and development organisations however believe that this gamesmanship is endangering the chances of reaching a deal.

On Thursday (18 June), EU leaders simply repeated what had already been agreed last week by the bloc's finance ministers - that all countries, except the least developed, should contribute to the financing of the fight against climate change in developing countries.

The leaders agreed that the fine print of this will only be thrashed out in October at the next European summit.

At the same time, the EU leaders have recognised that while public monies will ultimately be committed, private financing will take the "primary role" as the source of climate adaptation funds.

The one bright spot for climate finance was wording finalised by the leaders that requested the presidency of the EU - to be held by Sweden for the next six months - to develop in concert with the European Commission a work programme for co-ordination of internal EU decision-making on the subject in the lead-up to the Copenhagen conference.

The leaders have also requested that the commission table finance proposals "as soon as possible."

Green groups believe that Europe is abandoning the leadership role on climate discussions it had won in the last year as a result of its package of laws that committed the bloc to 20 percent reductions in carbon emissions on 1990 levels by 2020.

"Today has shown us that European leaders are still not up to the challenge. We need European leadership to push for a strong climate deal by the end of this year," said Joris den Blanken of Greenpeace.

"No action from the EU now, leaves the road wide open for less ambitious countries like Japan and the US to water down the deal."

Not all EU member states are happy with the state of affairs.


On Thursday morning, Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen conceded: "Today is not going to be the day that the EU is going to solve the question of financing and of what concrete proposal the EU wants to give the rest of the world."

Speaking in Brussels at the launch of a report consolidating the latest science on global warming, he warned: "There is no doubt that we should keep the leadership in order to reach an ambitious climate deal."

"In December 2008 the EU took upon itself historical obligations. Yet less than six months later some are questioning EU leadership."

"And in recent months we have seen others showing willingness to take lead. The Obama administration. Australia. Many are now setting the pace. I welcome this. This will benefit all of us."

"But to let Europe drop behind would be a mistake," he said, although he added that he was convinced that "in a few months ...we will reach a common position on all aspects of financing."

He also criticised the commission for so far failing to come up with any proposals on the matter, accusing the EU executive of having been at "a bit of a standstill" during the European Parliament elections and while awaiting the appointment of a new commission president.

"It is important that the commission gets on the playing field. We need the commission to put forward a proposal, so we can assess it well in advance of [the Copenhagen conference]."

Emergency funds

Some member states, notably the Netherlands and Sweden, with backing from the Czechs, are hoping that at least the EU leaders taking part in the G8 meeting in two weeks' time could prepare an "emergency" proposal for commitments on up-front funds to pay for immediate climate adaptation needs of developing countries.

These are monies amounting to around $2 billion (€1.4bn) that were committed to some eight years ago for the most urgent projects in countries already battered by a changing climate. Of these funds, the global north has stumped up only $200 million.

The EU's contribution - about a third of the sum - would amount to around €500 million.

It is hoped that these monies - already committed to and separate from any presumed funding agreement reached in Copenhagen - would be viewed as a down payment on any further, larger commitment.

Spoof newspaper

Ironically, a spoof version of the International Herald Tribune bearing the fake headline "Heads of state agree historic climate-saving deal" appeared in the European quarter of Brussels on Thursday morning.

Some 35,000 copies of the mock edition of the newspaper were delivered to the addresses of diplomats and politicians in the European capital.

The fake daily brought a smile to those journalists who were not duped into believing it was the real thing, with headlines such as "Sarkozy: Nuclear is dead," an article in which authorities had agreed to turn coal plants into public housing.

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