On top of climate chaos, UN climate body is short on money

  • Published on April 1st, 2024

There was a bit a of news last week from the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. That’s the 32-year-old process, backed by treaty, by which limits on carbon emissions are negotiated. To the government ministers and negotiators meeting at the year’s first round of international climate meetings in Denmark, UNFCCC executive director Simon Stiell on Thursday made a plea for more funding.

United Nations Framework Convention on Climate ChangeBy Meteor Blades

“Our organization, the UNFCCC, now faces severe financial challenges,” he said. “We are attempting to meet an ever-growing mandate. Our job is to make your job easier. To carry out the tasks you have all agreed we should do, but we can only do this if we have the funding support.”

We’ll return to that.

Back in 2015, when the annual climate summit—COP21—was held in Paris, the ardent and eloquent Rebecca Solnit wrote at Harper’s magazine:

When we talk about climate we talk about many kinds of power. There’s the tangible question of how we power our machines—with coal, oil, and gas, or with wind, sunlight, and water. Then there’s the question of who has the power to decide what we do—governments, citizens, energy companies. The Paris conference is theoretically about governmental power, i.e., the 196 parties to the U.N.F.C.C., who are supposed to represent nearly every human on earth. But some of these governments (Saudi Arabia and Venezuela, for example) are themselves fossil-fuel corporations of a sort. When it comes to climate and environmental policy, the United States can be seen, in large measure, as a country run by the fossil-fuel industry; the Canadian government has been more or less at war with some of its First Nations peoples, who have blocked the construction of new pipelines for years. […]

It’s no secret why many corporations, along with the politicians who front for them, deny what climate change asks of us. The fossil-fuel age must inevitably end, and with its end will come an end to concentration of power in the hands of fossil-fuel corporations, These corporations are fighting for their life—and our death right now.

It is extraordinary and appalling to consider that we, and they, know that we are doing is devastating the world, and that we, and they nevertheless continue to do it anyway. […]

The idea that we need to leave 80 percent of the known reserves of fossil fuels in the ground—a number arrived at by climate scientists and popularized by “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math,” Bill McKibben’s landmark 2012 essay in Rolling Stone—has become an organizing point. This summer, [French President] François Hollande embraced the goal. The once-radical idea is quickly turning into common sense, as the idea of universal human rights did after the French Revolution.”

Out of that summit came the Paris Agreement, the non-binding pact to cut carbon emissions to keep the global temperature from rising more than 2 degrees C (3.6 degrees F) above the 1850-1900 average, with an aspirational goal of keeping it below 1.5 degrees C (2.7 degrees F).

That was nearly nine years ago. At the time, atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide averaged about 400 parts per million, a steep climb from the 357 ppm recorded when nations signed the UNFCCC treaty in 1992. Last month, the average CO2 concentration as measured at the Mauna Loa, Hawai’i  monitoring station was 424.55 ppm. Around the world, we are seeing the consequences, a litany of disasters and megadisasters climatologists tell us are going to worsen.

And what is the oil and gas industry doing? Well, they’re for sure not keeping fossil fuels in the ground or talking about doing so. Indeed, three of the largest oil companies—ExxonMobil, Chevron, and Shell—made $85.6 billion in profits in 2023. Chevron’s chairman and CEO Mike Wirth said, “In 2023, we returned more cash to shareholders and produced more oil and natural gas than any year in the company’s history.”

Rebecca Solnit
Rebecca Solnit

Going forward, there will be even more. In 2021, the International Energy Agency added its voice to the leave-it-in-the-ground call, pointing out that keeping global warming in check means no new oil and gas projects can be undertaken. But, as the Financial Times points out, investment plans have been finalized for at least 20 new oil and gas  fields totaling 8 billion barrels of oil equivalent (BOE) in reserves. The Global Energy Monitor, an environmental research group, predicts that this figure will grow nearly fourfold by the end of the decade, with another 31 billion BOE across 64 new fields permitted by 2030.

At the annual CERAweek earlier this month in Houston, the message was clear, “We should abandon the fantasy of phasing out oil and gas,” said Amin Nasser, president and CEO of Saudi Aramco. And Shell CEO Wael Sawan declared that “there is going to be a multidimensional energy system in the future, [and] oil and gas will continue to have an important role in stabilizing that system for a long, long, long time to come.”

The UNFCCC, of course, doesn’t have billions in profits with which to carry out its mandate. It estimated that it needed about $165 million for 2024-2025, but it only got $80.4 million. That was nearly a 20% increase, but it still left an $85 million hole that has to filled with voluntary donations from governments and private parties. As for compulsory UNFCCC contributions, a large number of nations are behind in their payments, and that includes the United States. For the 2010-2023 period, the U.S. is in arrears to the tune of $3.56 million.

In budget discussions last year, U.N. staff wrote that “prohibitive dependence on supplementary funding” would result in “jeopardizing the sustainability of the UNFCCC secretariat and limiting support to critical recurring and long-term activities.”

This week, the UNFCCC implemented one of those limits, announcing that the popular Regional Climate Weeks will be canceled until further notice because of the funds shortage. WaterAid partnerships and advocacy chief Dennis Marrumbe wrote at Climate Home News of the “hugely disappointing news.”

It means that a vital platform to express the concerns of people and communities most affected by climate change has been taken away.

The climate weeks are a vital opportunity to bring a stronger regional voice – those who are footing the bill in developing countries for a crisis they have done the least to cause – to the international table in the lead-up to the UN COP climate summits.

Last year we saw four regional climate weeks: Africa Climate Week in Nairobi, Kenya; Middle East and North Africa Climate Week in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; Latin America and the Caribbean Climate Week in Panama City, Panama; and Asia-Pacific Climate Week in Johor Bahru, Malaysia. […]

At Africa Climate Summit alone, over 20 commitments were made by African heads of state – commitments and announcements that equated to a combined investment of nearly $26 billion from public, private sector and multilateral development banks, philanthropic foundations and other financing partners.

The UNFCCC shortfall of $85 million could be taken care of with just 1/10th of 1% of the combined profits last year of ExxonMobil, Chevron, and Shell. But they and the other fossil fuel companies need all their money for shareholder dividends, stock buybacks, and driving accumulated atmospheric CO2 to a nice round 450 ppm.Solnit concluded her 2015 essay with:

But the changes we need won’t necessarily be made by leaders, at least not by the kind who head governments. Hollande invoked the French Revolution; it might be harder to see that we are now in the midst of a climate revolution or many revolutions. The horrific breaking apart of predictable and harmonious systems in the biosphere is one revolution. The inevitability of the end of the age of fossil fuel, which will look like an ancien régime to people born in 2100, is another. Finally, there are the populist forces that are driving the transition to a post-carbon economy and fighting, on many continents, in many nations, the fossil-fuel powers. The most important question raised by the climate summit may be: Does the power to change the world belong to the people in the conference rooms of Le Bourget or to the people in the streets of Paris?

Almost a decade later, it cannot be, must not be, left to the boardrooms of those fossil fuel powers and their puppets. Will people “in the streets” challenge these powers head on or let them keep driving us to catastrophe?

Tick, tick, tick.

(Originally appeared at DailyKos)

About the Author

Meteor Blades is a writer and contributing editor at DailyKos. He believes there is something profoundly wrong with our system. - the unchecked accumulation of wealth and power into the hands of a very small group of corporate business interests has contributed to the wholesale corruption of our political system. For an understanding about the level of corruption in our country, he encourages you to view these two PBS documentaries: (1). ,The Untouchables; (2) The United States of ALEC.

What do you think? We'd love to hear your thoughts...

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.