Rich countries pledge more than $13 billion in aid at UN climate talks in Lima

Women dressed in Andean traditional costumes dancing outside the opening of the High-Level Segment of the UN Climate Change Conference COP 20 in Lima, Peru, on Dec 9, 2014. The two-week long United Nations climate summit opened on Dec 1. -- PHOTO: RE
Women dressed in Andean traditional costumes dancing outside the opening of the High-Level Segment of the UN Climate Change Conference COP 20 in Lima, Peru, on Dec 9, 2014. The two-week long United Nations climate summit opened on Dec 1. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

LIMA (AFP) - Rich countries have pledged more than US$10 billion (S$13 billion) in climate aid for poor economies, a psychological threshold at United Nations global warming talks in Lima, according to a tally compiled by AFP on Tuesday.

Finance is a touchy issue at the negotiations, where developing countries - led by China - want wealthy economies to spell out their promised support as a sign of good faith in negotiations to forge a global climate pact by December 2015.

The US$10 billion level was exceeded when Australia promised A$200 million (S$218.7 million) and Belgium 51.6 million euros (S$84.1 million) at a ministerial meeting in the Peruvian capital.

The pledges are for the brand-new Green Climate Fund (GCF), the main vehicle for channelling financial aid to poor nations.

Rich countries undertook in 2009 to muster at least US$100 billion per year, from all sources, from 2020.

The money will be used to help shore up the defenses of climate-vulnerable countries and help them reduce their carbon emissions.

"These contributions should build trust in the negotiations and propel action to a global agreement," said Ms Athena Ballesteros of the World Resources Institute (WRI), a US think-tank.

GCF executive director Hela Cheikhrouhou praised the nearly two dozen countries that have promised cash.

"The time has come to bring real scale to climate finance," she said. "Now we need urgency, conviction and scale."

Australia said its funding would be allocated over four years.

The pledge follows the United States contributing US$3 billion, Japan up to US$1.5 billion and France and Germany a billion dollars each to the UN fund.

One of the world's wealthiest countries, Australia has come under fire from green groups for its use of coal-fired power and its per-capita carbon pollution - among the highest in the world.

Ms Kelly Dent, Oxfam Australia's climate policy adviser, said Canberra's pledge was an important first step, though it "falls short of its fair share".

At a three-hour ministerial session on climate finance, developing countries agreed Tuesday that pledges so far were good news, but they needed to be more predictable.

The Association of Small Island States (AOSIS) called for "robust information" on public aid on an annual basis, and a "common reporting format".

"Before we leave Lima, we need that assurance," it said.

Chinese top negotiator Xie Zhenhua said pre-2020 pledges so far were "a positive signal, which should be fully acknowledged as good news... but there is still a big gap".

"The Lima conference should draft a clear roadmap on finance by the developed countries by 2020 by specifying the annual amount of public finance by each developed country and scaling it up every year, taking into account the needs of developing countries," said Mr Xie.

US chief negotiator Todd Stern struck a different note, saying donors "are on their way" to meeting the 2020 commitment and arguing that public funds were just a part of overall financing needs.

"Best estimates suggest there is plus or minus US$40 billion of public funds flowing internationally already, and that doesn't even count private investment mobilized by that money or by related public policy," said Mr Stern.

"The $100 billion commitment was always based on public and private. Our joint goal should be a major effort to drive investment to lower emissions, development and growth, that is where the big opportunity lies."