Just Before Leaving White House, Obama Made a Final Climate Hail Mary

With his time in the White House coming to an end and amid promises by the incoming Trump administration to defund international climate action, President Barack Obama transferred $500 million to the Green Climate Fund (GCF), a key mechanism for climate change adaptation and renewable energy projects in the Global South.

The move follows weeks of international pressure for the Obama administration to make good on its commitment to the fund, which has found itself in the crosshairs of Trump’s policy agenda. The GCF is a primary vehicle for climate finance and is largely seen as the lynchpin of climate action and fulfilling the commitments made under the Paris Agreement. President-elect Trump has made advancing the fossil fuel industry’s agenda a central focus of his team, including by stacking his Cabinet with climate deniers and corporate CEOs, such as recently retired Exxon Mobil Chairman and CEO Rex Tillerson.

“The Obama administration is refusing to let President-elect Trump’s posse of oil barons and climate deniers dictate how the world responds to the climate crisis,” said Tamar Lawrence-Samuel of Corporate Accountability International. “Tens of thousands of people around the world called on President Obama to step up before Trump takes the keys of our government and tries to reverse decades of climate progress.  This victory is the climate justice movement’s opening salvo to the Trump presidency. And we’re not going away.”

Over the last several weeks, 129 organizations led by Corporate Accountability International, including 350.org and Center for International Environmental Law, joined more than 90,000 people incalling on the Obama administration to fulfill the U.S.’s commitment to the U.N. climate treaty’s Green Climate Fund by transferring $2.5 billion.

In 2014, the U.S. committed $3 billion to the GCF for its initial resource mobilization period of 2015–2018—and in March of 2016 transferred its first $500 million. Obama will now leave office having contributed $1 billion to the fund, but with serious doubts looming over whether additional funding will come from a Republican-controlled government.

Established as part of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the GCF is the primary vehicle through which Global North countries, responsible for the vast majority of historical global greenhouse gas emissions, can provide the resources due to Global South countries so that they may adapt to the already devastating effects of climate change and transition to renewable energy sources. In March of 2016, understanding that climate deniers in Congress would refuse a direct appropriation, the Obama administration made good on $500 million of its commitment to the GCF through a State Department fund called the Economic Support Fund (ESF).

While this move is a significant victory in the face of the looming Trump administration, the GCF provides only a minute fraction of the total funding needed to comprehensively address the climate crisis, including adaptation and loss-and-damage, as well as the global transition to renewables. Indeed, recent analyses estimate the adaptation and mitigation costs for Global South countries in the trillions of dollars in just the next 13 years alone.

“Money is where the rubber hits the road when it comes to addressing climate change, especially in poor countries,” said Karen Orenstein of Friends of the Earth U.S. “President Obama’s action sends 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 U.S. aren’t going to continue standing up and demanding climate action.”

The coalition that called for the Obama administration to take this step is part of a global movement of environmental and human rights groups dedicated to protecting a critical international commitment made by the U.S. and resisting Trump’s looming assault on climate policy, human rights and equity during his term. Not only do most of Donald Trump’s Cabinet appointments have long histories of dismantling and attacking environmental policies, 16 of them also own more wealth than one third of American households combined. They owe much of their wealth to years in the upper echelons of corporate America, confirming the fears of many that this administration will represent only the interests of corporations and the wealthy.

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