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A Closer Look At Clinton's $100 Billion Pledge

At last, some news out of Copenhagen. Earlier this morning, Hillary Clinton caused a ruckus in Denmark with this statement:

And today I’d like to announce that, in the context of a strong accord in which all major economies stand behind meaningful mitigation actions and provide full transparency as to their implementation, the United States is prepared to work with other countries toward a goal of jointly mobilizing $100 billion a year by 2020 to address the climate change needs of developing countries. We expect this funding will come from a wide variety of sources, public and private, bilateral and multilateral, including alternative sources of finance. This will include a significant focus on forestry and adaptation, particularly, again I repeat, for the poorest and most vulnerable among us.

Okay, this needs to be unpacked a bit. The financing in question will hinge on other "major economies"—she no doubt means China, and probably India—taking their own steps to tackle carbon emissions, and doing it in a way that the rest of the world can verify. As William Chandler explained to me earlier this week, the transparency issue is one of the biggest sticking points between the United States and China (though, he argued, it really shouldn't be insurmountable).

It's also worth noting that Clinton is not committing to $100 billion in foreign aid from industrialized governments—a lot of this money could come, for example, from private sources, like carbon-offset projects purchased under domestic cap-and-trade programs. On the other hand, environmental groups like the Sierra Club have been quick to note that OECD governments currently spend $60 billion per year subsidizing fossil fuels, and they could always redirect some of that money.

In any case, Clinton's statement doesn't mean that a climate treaty is inevitable—the next move is up to China, which is sending radically mixed messages right now—but the question of whether the United States would ever agree to significant climate aid to developing countries was a big unknown, so this does nudge things slightly closer to agreement. (Though, caveat time, it's not like the State Department has the power to dole out any of this money on its own—any U.S. aid commitment at Copenhagen will almost certainly need Congress's approval.)

Update: Looks like China's now inching toward concessions on transparency.

(Flickr photo credit: Andy Revkin)