President Obama will pledge $3 billion to an international climate fund aimed at helping developing countries prepare for and slow the effects of climate change, a White House official said Friday.
The U.S. pledged the money to the United Nations Green Climate Fund, an integral part of the international effort to craft an agreement to address climate change. The fund, created in 2011, asks industrialized countries and their private sectors that pumped most of the greenhouse gases into the atmosphere over the last century to now provide aid to developing countries so they can shift to low-carbon fuel and adapt to the effects of climate change.
Research has shown that the poorest countries that emitted the least greenhouse gases, such as those in Africa, stand to suffer the most damage from global warming.
"It is in our national interest to help vulnerable countries to build resilience to climate change," the official said in a statement. "More resilient communities are less likely to descend into instability or conflict in the aftermath of extreme climate events, needing more costly interventions to restore stability and rebuild."
The White House announced the U.S. pledge as the president traveled in Asia. It comes on the heels of a new climate change agreement between the U.S. and China, considered a milestone in the push for international cooperation to reduce carbon emissions.
Obama was due to arrive in Brisbane, Australia, later Friday for an economic summit of the Group of 20 nations.
Advocates quickly welcomed the commitment.
"A $3-billion U.S. pledge to the Green Climate Fund would be an important show of American leadership to help the most vulnerable people in the world protect themselves from dangerous climate impacts and to ensure a coordinated global response to climate change," said Heather Coleman, climate program manager for Oxfam America, who noted that the pledge is similar to American commitments to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.
Mexico, Korea, Germany, France and Japan are among the countries who have already pledged to contribute.
The fund is essential to getting developing nations to sign on to a climate pact international negotiators will present in Paris in December 2015. The U.S. pledge arrives as countries prepare for a conference on their pledges in Berlin beginning Wednesday. The U.N. seeks to have at least $10 billion in commitments to the fund by the end of 2014, and so far, $3 billion total has been pledged by nations including France and Germany. The U.S. pledge is the largest to date, and analysts said they hoped it would spur countries such as Japan and Britain to step up with generous pledges in Berlin.
Ultimately, the U.N. hopes to get developed countries and industry to marshal $100 billion annually by 2020 to help the developing world. The World Bank estimates that damage related to global warming costs the world economy $200 billion annually.
The American commitment would be paid out over four years and could come from funds already allocated to other international efforts. Still, the pledge elicited a strong backlash from Republicans who will take control of Congress in January.
"President Obama's pledge to give unelected bureaucrats at the U.N. $3 billion for climate change initiatives is an unfortunate decision to not listen to voters in this most recent election cycle," said Republican Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma, who is expected to take over the chairmanship of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. "The president's climate change agenda has only siphoned precious taxpayer dollars away from the real problems facing the American people. In a new Congress, I will be working with my colleagues to reset the misguided priorities of Washington the past six years."
Inhofe is perhaps the most prominent skeptic of fossil-fuel-driven climate change among congressional Republicans, who have vowed to rein in the president's efforts to address it. Congress has to vote to deliver the funds Obama has pledged, which could prove a tall order.
Senate Democrats said the president is building from pledges his predecessor, George W. Bush, made to address the global effects of climate change. Environmentalists said they expect Obama to hold his ground despite GOP attacks on the pledge and other climate initiatives.
"While the president is leading us forward to avert climate disaster, Sen. McConnell and other polluter allies in Congress have made no secret of their desire to take us backward," said Anna Aurilio of Environment America, citing Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. "The president should stand firm against these climate deniers."