Call it a “Hail Mary” for the planet: On his way out of the White House, amid the transition to a stunningly anti-science administration, (now former) President Obama laid down a small milestone on the global path to climate justice. The administration’s last-minute $500 million payment this week into a major international environmental-finance agency, United Nations Green Climate Fund, represents one of the few concrete contributions the government has made toward implementing development projects mandated by the Paris Climate Deal.
The fund is just a fraction of Washington’s overall $3 billion pledge, which, despite GOP lawmakers’ efforts to derail the funding, has already been budgeted. But considering that the incoming president has vowed to kill the Paris Climate Deal while festooning his cabinet with fossil-fuel industry insiders and plutocrats, environmentalists simply hope that the $500 million contribution can be a kind of placeholder—sadly, it might have to last at least another four years.
Friends of the Earth US called the action “a powerful signal to the world that the Trump administration’s anti-science, anti-justice, pro-corporate approach to climate does not mean the people of the US aren’t going to continue standing up and demanding climate action.” But the award is only one-sixth of what environmental groups were hoping Obama would release, and even if this Congress had fully paid out its commitment, it’s barely denting the cost of transitioning to a zero-carbon energy system, which the federal government estimates could be as much as $44 trillion worldwide by 2050.
The UN has so far authorized just about $1.2 billion to 27 projects and programs in 39 countries. The goal is to spend $100 billion annually by 2020. Despite the slow start, new projects are starting to come online and making a difference: They include $10 million for Community-Based Natural Resource Management in Namibia and $53.5 million to cultivate sustainable landscapes in Madagascar.
But the fund is no panacea, not only because it remains perilously short of what’s needed, but also because the structure of the fund is still based on a system that is in part controlled by the gigantic financial institutions and governments that have historically driven the carbon economy. So there’s always a chance of participating countries’ facing unfair debt burdens or getting entangled with corrupt private investment entities.