Developing countries need an almost incomprehensible amount of money—likely trillions of dollars—to help them mitigate and adapt to climate change. The U.S. and other wealthy nations, seen as the main polluters, have agreed to pitch in. That is why the United Nations created the Green Climate Fund, which is now the largest multinational cash pool for financing climate action in developing countries. So far about $10 billion has been pledged, with the U.S. alone promising $3 billion—but with President-elect Donald Trump heading into office, there is now a chance developing countries will not get as much help as they were promised.
Trump has called global warming a hoax and has said he would withdraw the U.S. from the landmark 2015 Paris agreement on climate (although he subsequently told The New York Times he is keeping an “open mind” on these issues). In Trump’s “Contract with the American Voter”—his action plan for his first 100 days in office—he singled out U.S. financial contributions to U.N. climate change programs, saying he would “cancel” payments within months after he enters office. That could potentially take a large chunk of funding out of the Green Climate Fund (GCF), because the U.S. has promised the largest contribution of all the contributing nations—and has so far delivered only a small portion of its pledged funds. “They didn’t talk about it at the last [Green Climate Fund] meeting,” says Karen Orenstein, deputy director of the Economic Policy Program at Friends of the Earth. “But it’s clearly the elephant in the room.”
The U.N. established the GCF at its 2010 global climate talks in Cancún, and the fund is one of the main ways to distribute financial support for climate action under the Paris agreement and the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change. Based in Songdo, South Korea, the GCF is run by a 24-member board of representatives from developed and developing countries. It works roughly like this: Half of the fund is supposed to go toward climate-mitigation efforts like green energy programs, and the rest toward adaptation efforts like building floodproof infrastructure. Public or private entities can contribute (although only public sources have promised funds so far); the board accepts government or business proposals for projects in developing countries; then the board distributes funds to projects it believes will “support a paradigm shift in the global response to climate change,”