The Politics of Poverty

Ideas and analysis from Oxfam America's policy experts

US offer to reduce emissions post-2020: 25-28% might sound low until you consider .01%

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Hundreds of thousands of activists came together for the People's Climate March in September to demand that government and business leaders take bold action. Photo: Coco McCabe / Oxfam America

On March 31, 2015, the US released the details of its widely anticipated post-2020 “offer” (called ‘Intended Nationally Determined Contribution’ in technical terms) to the international community.

This marks an important step in US leadership towards achieving global deal with a commitment to achieve domestic emissions reductions 26%-28% below 2005 levels by 2025

In order to meet the 2 degree threshold the world essentially has to peak emissions in the 2020s and phase out fossil fuel emissions altogether by sometime mid-century. While the US offer gets us on a pathway towards this goal, we still need a transformational shift in US energy policy to help get us over the finish line, think economy-wide carbon tax or market based mechanism (both require Congress to get on board.)

Working on these issues at Oxfam can be sobering. I am consistently reminded of what it means for poor people living on the frontlines of climate change to have their lives upended because of our failure to shift fast enough. We had yet another stark reminder recently when Cyclone Pam hit Vanuatu and the surrounding islands displacing thousands of people who live there and threatening their way of life. We can make progress on climate change, as well-demonstrated by the Obama administration’s commitment to international action, but we frankly can’t change the political tides on climate change overnight. This is why the US must follow-through in providing climate-assistance to vulnerable countries and communities around the globe who have done little, if anything, to cause this crisis and who are unjustly bearing the brunt of its impacts.

The first step will be for Congress to fund the first installment of the US contribution to the Green Climate Fund to support adaptation and mitigation actions in developing countries. This first payment to the GCF, $500 million, represents roughly 1% of the US foreign aid budget (and that’s .01% of the entire US budget!) It’s a miniscule amount of money, much of it to be spent in ways that help bolster US business interests abroad and boost human security in regions where instability is a real and persistent threat.

The second step will be for the US government to be prepared to make a commitment to international adaptation finance in the long-term, beyond 2020, especially for the most vulnerable countries.

Climate finance is the next chapter to address as we approach the G7 in June, the UN Financing for Development conference in July, and COP21 in November/December 2015 in Paris. There is no excuse not to continue to step up on behalf of the most vulnerable.

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