Paying the high cost of climate chaos

The story of climate finance

by Karen Orenstein, senior international policy analyst

The climate problem has culprits, it has victims and it has tremendous costs. But it also has solutions.

The first step to solving a problem, no matter its size, is to understand who’s responsible for causing it.

And one must be aware of its consequences. In the case of climate pollution, we’re talking about life and death, livelihoods and cultures lost and even the potential loss of whole island nations swallowed up by sea level rise. Needless to say, the results of climate pollution are not, and will not be, borne equally.

So climate solutions need to take into account culprits, victims and costs. Developed countries, whose pollution created both wealth and global temperature rise, need to make drastic cuts in greenhouse gas emissions — cuts that were needed yesterday. People around the world, particularly the world’s poorest, will need to adjust to living in a climate-constrained world and embark on drastically different development paths than those taken by already-industrialized countries. But these adjustments will be costly — and the costs will only magnify with further delay.

So who should pay? Basic principles of fairness require that the party responsible for causing grave harm must also provide adequate remedy. Not only that; a livable planet is in everyone’s interest.

The real obstacle to making a substantial down payment on addressing the climate crisis is a lack of political will and garbled priorities. There is not a scarcity of money; spending needs to be redirected.

Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Representative Keith Ellison (D-MN) have even introduced legislation to establish such a Wall Street Tax.

Sorting out where to deposit money for climate finance is a no-brainer: the newly minted United Nations Green Climate Fund. In late 2014, President Obama publicly pledged $3 billion for the GCF, though the U.S. government is already behind in paying up. That might seem like a lot to a Congress populated by many backward-looking fossils, but it’s a miniscule amount in comparison to the need and to a fair contribution by the U.S.

The need for climate finance is an intrinsic part of the Pope’s message on climate change, which he notes is inextricably linked to poverty, inequality and justice. The provision of climate finance is also absolutely fundamental to the success of an international climate agreement at the upcoming UN climate summit in Paris.

Click here for the full infographic, with sources.

This infographic first appeared in the Friends of the Earth summer 2015 newsmagazine. For more information, see