The Obama administration will host a high-level meeting to discuss ways to mobilize hundreds of billions of dollars in annual international global warming assistance, State Department Special Envoy for Climate Change Todd Stern said in a recent speech.
Speaking to the State Department's Foreign Affairs Policy Board, Stern warned that there will be "enormous pressure" on donor countries to show they are making progress on a vow to generate $100 billion annually by 2020 for clean energy and adaptation.
The United States and other countries, he said, need to turn the focus toward ways of unlocking vast quantities of private-sector dollars and also "develop a narrative" of how nations intend to fulfill the pledge made at the 2009 climate summit in Copenhagen, Denmark.
"The key here will be to combine limited public funds with smart policies and instruments to leverage significant private-sector investment in clean energy and infrastructure in developing countries," Stern said.
"Given the slow pace and fraught nature of the U.N. negotiations, it is important to drive real action among willing partners that doesn't depend on treaties, negotiations, et cetera," Stern said. "This makes sense substantively and can also send a positive signal that concrete international action in the immediate term is possible and can deliver results."
Analysts and environmental activists praised the early spring meeting as a time to negotiate practical ways of unlocking private-sector dollars for climate change. Several said it is also a badly needed signal to other nations that the United States is thinking constructively about climate finance instead of continuing to reject others' ideas and avoid the discussion.
It also comes as the Obama administration considers several proposals that might signal a renewed domestic commitment to climate action, including a proposal for a White House summit (E&ENews PM, Jan. 9). Bob Doppelt, executive director of the Oregon-based Resource Innovation Group, who pitched the summit idea to the Council on Environmental Quality this week, said that whether the White House chooses that option or another, he's seeing a significant change in attitude and approach from the administration in this term.
"I'm pretty convinced, and I can be pretty cynical, that the administration is serious about how to figure out how the president can take a leadership role on climate change," Doppelt said.
Beginning of an international conversation
A State Department spokeswoman declined to offer details about the climate finance meeting preparations or its goals. But those familiar with the United States' intentions described it as the beginning of an unfolding conversation with finance ministers and others about the best ways to leverage private funding from limited public dollars.
"This sort of meeting can be valuable. It's part of an ongoing process, and I think it can be quite productive," said Gilbert Metcalf, an economics professor at Tufts University who led the creation of the Green Climate Fund at the U.S. Treasury Department before returning to academia this year.
Metcalf praised some ongoing work, like an effort to develop more private-sector involvement in the burgeoning Green Climate Fund. Still, he noted, climate negotiators are not generally experts in finance, and if nations are serious about raising big bucks to protect low-lying islands from sea level rise, to develop distributed solar generation or to do other much-needed work toward both mitigating emissions and building resilience against weather disasters, the conversation needs to shift.
"Bringing together smart people from ministries of finance might actually help work through how to deal with some of these ideas," he said.