A U.S. Commitment to Developing Nations: The Key to Unlocking Copenhagen

We are nearing the end of two weeks of climate negotiations and heads of state are starting to arrive, but we are leagues away from an agreement that will bring the developing and developed world together.

On Monday, dozens of developing nations walked out of the talks because they don’t believe rich nations are doing enough to reduce global warming pollution.

Talks resumed later, but they could just as easily break apart again over another contentious issue: financing for developing nations to confront global warming and to adapt to its deadly consequences.

Right now, the burden of this potential deal-breaker sits squarely on U.S. shoulders.

The United States is the only nation that has yet to signal its commitment to medium-term financing for developing nations. It has made initial pledges for near-term funding, but it has not made any promises for the 2015 time-frame.

This is what developing nations are waiting to hear. If President Obama announces his commitment to help fund clean energy, forest protections, and adaptation in the world’s poorest countries, it could prompt African nations to come back to the table. They in turn could help nudge China to agree to make its carbon intensity reduction efforts more transparent--another key issue that needs to be resolved before we reach a broad political agreement.

In order for this delicate chain of events to unfold, a U.S. commitment can not wait until Friday when President Obama arrives. The developing world needs to receive a signal sooner in order to come to the table with real intent.

That’s right. The United States has the power to prevent the international climate talks from falling apart. Our financing pledge could be the game-changer in the most important--and dangerously fragile--negotiations of our generation.

But remember, the emphasis on financing is not a diplomatic ploy. It is a reflection of the fact that people’s lives are at stake.

According to the World Health Organization, more than half of the world’s population lives within 40 miles of shorelines, leaving them in the path of rising sea levels and storm surges. Rich cities such as Copenhagen or Amsterdam can afford to build protections, but what about the citizens of Lagos, Mumbai, Jakarta, or Manila?

Meanwhile, the World Bank estimates that a further increase of just 1.8 degrees in average global temperatures would reduce the availability of clean water for perhaps as many as 1.7 billion people, mostly in Africa and Asia.

The people on the frontlines of climate change are already suffering from poverty and injustice. There has been talk here in Copenhagen, for instance, about how global warming is threatening the livelihood and cultural survival of indigenous people from rural India to the American Southwest.

On Tuesday I participated in a press conference with representatives of Canada’s First Nations, the World Wildlife Fund, and the Prince of Monaco on the fate of the Arctic. As delegates talk, and youth leaders demand action on climate, the Arctic is changing before our eyes.

Arctic First Nations have developed centuries-old traditions that are finely attuned to the natural world and seasonal changes. But now, as a result of global warming, community members can no longer safely predict when the seasons will shift and the number of people drowning or dying in hunting accidents has risen each year.

If global warming continues unchecked, more of the world’s population will face the dangers of sea-level rise. What will it take to get an agreement that will move the world towards a first-step solution to avert climate disaster?

It will take a signal from the U.S. that we will deliver real money to protect the world’s poor from the most damaging consequences of climate change and to preserve the world’s greatest forests. This commitment must also be connected to a strategy that ensures transparency and performance in China’s climate action plan.

U.S. leadership can unlock an international agreement on global warming. We citizens can demonstrate that leadership by telling the Obama administrate to make a bold financing commitment.

Click here to call on Obama to join us, and to lead the way to a global agreement that confronts climate change and protects the people of the world from its worst impacts.