30th Sep 2023

EU leaders kick third-world climate finance into long grass

  • Some south Pacific islands are under threat of disappearing as a result of climate change (Photo: Nikolaj Bock/

European Union leaders, meeting in Brussels on Thursday (19 March) and Friday, have kicked a decision on committing funds for third world carbon reduction measures and adaptation to unavoidable climate change into the long grass.

"Significant domestic and external sources of finance, both private and public, will be required for financing mitigation and adaptation actions, particularly in the most vulnerable developing countries," read the conclusions of the summit.

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But no firm figures were announced. Instead, the document says only that the EU "will take on its fair share of financing such actions in developing countries."

Last December at the UN climate talks in Bali, Indonesia, the EU had committed to putting an offer on the table by this summit.

Climate finance for the third world has become the main focus of discussion in the lead-up to the Copenhagen climate change summit in December. If the EU and US stump up significant chunks of cash for cutting emissions and climate adaptation, developing countries may in return commit to considerable CO2 reductions, even though it is the industrialised north that is responsible for most of the emissions that caused the problem.

Two weeks ago, European environment ministers declined to come up with any figure. The following week finance ministers kicked the decision up to the top table. Now it appears that no moves will be made until the June European Council, while Poland has said it would be content if no decision were taken until some time during Sweden's turn at the rotating EU presidency in the second half of the year.

At the June summit, the EU is set to decide on its overall approach to climate finance, how much it will offer and how much each of the EU member states should contribute.

Additionally, EU chiefs agreed that the bloc's commitment to expand its cut in carbon emissions from 20 percent to 30 percent on 1990 levels is no longer just contingent on other wealthy countries making similar commitments, but on leading developing countries also taking on board significant carbon reduction targets.


Explaining why they had not come up with a funding proposal yet, the EU leaders said the priority should be on a common position the EU can take to the Copenhagen meeting.

Angela Merkel, Germany's chancellor, told reporters on Friday: "We want a success of this meeting and we are ready to allocate more funds but it is important that we prepare a negotiating position."

UK foreign minister David Miliband dismissed the concerns of the UN's top climate negotiator, Yvo de Boer, who this week accused the EU of backing down on commitments it had made in Bali last year.

"I've followed this debate with some bemusement," Mr Miliband told journalists at the end of the summit. "Far from backsliding, the EU is going into the last nine months before the Copenhagen summit with stronger and stronger offers, but also with an understanding of the responsibility of all countries.

"The European Union has also taken forward a serious debate on how we fund beyond the carbon finance system."

Sources close to the discussions confirm that Poland is the main opponent to sticking a price tag on EU climate finance for developing countries. Warsaw makes the argument that the economic crisis undermines the ability to make climate finance commitments and does not want to sign off on the mechanism for providing funding without first agreeing how to divide up the burden of the funding among member states.

Poland was backed by Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Bulgaria and Hungary, who are opposed to the use of funds from the auctioning of emissions permits for climate finance. But according to the same sources, of the rest of the member states, the UK, Spain and Sweden also did not want to put forward any concrete figures. Only the Netherlands together with Slovenia and Belgium were ready to do so immediately.

Waiting for Godot

Green groups and development organisations said that the delays in coming up with an offer and the demand that leading developing countries commit to carbon reductions before any cash is put on the table is killing off the chance of a strong agreement at the UN climate conference.

"We understand that in times of financial crisis it is difficult to be generous and devote resources to other parts of the world, but turning the responsibility around and asking developing countries to put forward proposals for cutting their emissions is a recipe for defeat at the December climate summit in Copenhagen," said Stephan Singer, director of WWF's Global Energy Programme, in reaction to the news.

Joris den Blanken of Greenpeace described the EU as "waiting for Godot" - in reference to a play about absurd delays - and called on the EU not to wait for the June summit, but to make use of the forthcoming ministerial meetings under the Czech presidency to agree on a plan for climate finance.

Elise Ford, of development NGO Oxfam's Brussels office, said: "Europe is turning its back on poor countries just when they need help most."

"The EU is empty-handed and in no fit state to lead the world on the two biggest issues we face today – the economic and climate crisis. Europe's approach is putting millions of lives and livelihoods at peril."

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