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Green Climate Fund Asks Wealthy Countries to Dig Deeper

Lucile Dufour, international policy adviser with Climate Action Network France, said the GCF replenishment was happening “at a crucial point

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Demonstrators take part in a protest against climate change called by Greenpeace activists ahead of the 2019 United Nations Climate Change Conference, in Santiago, Chile, Oct. 17, 2019. The placard reads: "These are the sacrificed, end to the coal now." VOA

The Green Climate Fund, one of the main sources of finance for developing nations to tackle climate change, is hoping wealthy countries will pledge between $9 billion and $10 billion to refill its coffers at a conference in Paris Friday.

Climate finance analysts said the outcome would be key to building trust with poorer states preparing more ambitious climate action plans, which are to be submitted to the United Nations by the end of 2020.

Environment and development groups are calling for at least $15 billion in new commitments for the Green Climate Fund (GCF), saying projects that may use up close to that amount are already in the pipeline, with needs only increasing as the planet warms.

A matter of survival

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Climate finance analysts said the outcome would be key to building trust with poorer states preparing more ambitious climate action plans, which are to be submitted to the United Nations. Pixabay

Lucile Dufour, international policy adviser with Climate Action Network France, said the GCF replenishment was happening “at a crucial point in the fight against climate change,” and called on donors to double their contributions at a minimum.

“This is a matter of justice and survival for developing countries and the most vulnerable communities,” she told journalists, noting the devastation from increasingly wild weather around the world.

The fund’s executive director, Yannick Glemarec, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation that this week’s meeting would be a “success” if pledges exceeded the $9.3 billion garnered at its first conference in 2014.

Since late last year the fund has secured pledges of about $7.4 billion from 16 countries for 2020-2023, with large donors like Germany, France and Britain doubling 2014 contributions.

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New announcements from some other potentially large donors are expected to raise that figure Friday, including Japan, Italy, Switzerland, Finland and Belgium.

“It is not easy right now for any kind of financial contributors to dramatically increase their contribution because most of them are facing real budgetary constraints,” Glemarec said, noting some “exceptional efforts” to double donations.

US won’t deliver pledge

Despite total promises of just more than $10 billion for the fund’s first five years, U.S. President Donald Trump, a climate-change sceptic, refused to deliver two-thirds of his country’s $3 billion pledge.

Climate, Fund, Wealthy
Environment and development groups are calling for at least $15 billion in new commitments for the Green Climate Fund (GCF), saying projects that may use up close to that amount are already. Pixabay

Currency fluctuations meanwhile further cut the actual total available to the fund, to about $7.2 billion.

Glemarec and others expressed hope the United States could “re-engage” with the fund in coming years.

Joe Thwaites, a climate finance researcher with Washington-based World Resources Institute, said domestic politics meant it was “disappointing but not surprising” that the United States and Australia had indicated they would not contribute now.

He also urged some countries whose new pledges were flat or up slightly, like Canada and the Netherlands, to give more.

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A report from the U.N. climate science panel showed last year that climate action financing, both from governments and business, had so far been inadequate, Thwaites said.

“There is a very clear sense that we need to see major increases and particularly for adaptation, where the needs are only going to rise.”

More for the poorest?

The GCF has allocated about $5.2 billion to 111 projects in 99 countries ranging from green, low-cost housing in Mongolia’s polluted capital and a rapid-transit bus system in Karachi using methane to restoring climate-threatened ecosystems in Namibia.

It expects to have parcelled out the rest of its initial pot by the end of 2019, Glemarec said, adding he hoped it would be able to grow its project pipeline in the future.

Aid agencies praise the fund’s push to divide its money between projects to reduce planet-warming emissions and efforts to adapt to climate shifts and rising seas, as adaptation has received only about a fifth of global climate finance until now.

Glemarec said that since 2015 nearly 70% of the $1.9 billion the fund had allocated for adaptation was for projects in the most vulnerable poor countries, African nations and small island states, stressing the aim was to maintain or raise that share.

Liane Schalatek, associate director at the Heinrich Böll Foundation North America and civil society observer at the GCF, said it should increasingly work with approved ministries and agencies in developing states to reach local communities.

“There needs to be a focus on the poorest and most disenfranchised people who are usually not given voice and much opportunity to participate in or benefit from decision-making on climate change,” she said. (VOA)

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Here’s how a Small Stretch of Ocean Boosted a Conservation Movement

Know how a small stretch of ocean stirred a conservation movement

Purple Vase Sponge ocean
Purple vase sponges are shown in this underwater photograph taken while scuba diving at Gray's Reef ocean. VOA

From the surface, these 22 square miles of water are unexceptional.But dip beneath the surface — go down 60 or 70 feet — and you’ll find a spectacular seascape. Sponges, barnacles and tube worms cover rocky ledges on the ocean floor, forming a “live bottom.”

Gray’s Reef is little more than a drop in the ocean 19 miles off the Georgia coast, but don’t confuse size for significance. In one of his last official acts, President Jimmy Carter declared the reef a national marine sanctuary at the urging of conservationists who said its abundance of life was unique and worth saving for future generations.

For nearly 40 years, the U.S. government has protected the reef, home to more than 200 species of fish and an amazing array of nearly 1,000 different kinds of invertebrates. Recreational fishing and diving are allowed, but commercial fishing and other kinds of exploitation are not.

And Gray’s Reef has served as a global inspiration. Following the lead of the U.S., other nations have designated similar sanctuaries and protected areas, which now cover about 6% of the world’s oceans — a bonanza for researchers but, more importantly, an important tool for safeguarding the seas.

Doubts remain about how much of the ocean they can truly save. Last year was the hottest on record for the planet’s oceans, and protected areas can’t slow the biggest source of that warming — increasing greenhouse gases. The federal government says more than 90% of the warming that has occurred on the planet over the past half-century has taken place in the ocean.

Save Ocean
A black sea bass swims along the reef in Gray’s Reef ocean. VOA

That has had dramatic effects in the waters that cover 70% of Earth’s surface. Scientists have tied the warming to the rise of sea levels, the disappearance of fish stocks and the bleaching of corals. The ocean also has become more acidic as humans have released higher concentrations of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, and that jeopardizes valuable shellfish and the plankton that form the base of the food chain.

The supporters for the protected areas range from sustenance fishermen on the tiniest islands of the Pacific to researchers at the most elite institutions of academia.

“We’re not protecting these areas just for ourselves,” Roldan Munoz, a research fishery biologist with the U.S.’s National Marine Fisheries Service, says during a research trip to the reef, “they’re for our nation.”

On a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration expedition to Gray’s Reef, the federal research vessel Nancy Foster is packed with scientists conducting research on subjects ranging from whether invasive lionfish are present to how changing ocean conditions are affecting coral species.

Sanctuary research coordinator Kimberly Roberson and other scientists prepare to dive to collect data about what fish can be found in the area, while Craig Aumack, an assistant professor of biology at Georgia Southern University, peers through a microscope at algae.

Aumack notes that more types of seaweed and tropical species of fish are appearing on the reef as waters warm, like the odd-looking and colorful clown wrasse, a fish native to the Caribbean Sea that was found off the coast of Georgia this summer, most likely pushed hundreds of miles to the north by changing ocean temperatures.

The sanctuary is named after Milton “Sam” Gray, a biologist who studied it in the 1960s and identified it as an ecosystem worth saving — a reef not far from the U.S. coast that teemed with life, especially an “abundance of diversity of invertebrates,” Roberson notes.

Without that designation, the habitat could have vanished due to high-impact industries such as bottom-trawl commercial fishing, which are now prohibited there.

“In some ways, it’s a test of what a marine protected area can do for surrounding areas,” says Clark Alexander, director and professor at the University of Georgia Skidaway Institute of Oceanography and a former member of the sanctuary’s advisory board. “It was sort of an ideal spot to preserve this kind of habitat and make it available for research and recreation.”

Marine animals in ocean
Scad and red snapper swim past divers Alison Soss, Geospatial Analyst, and Kimberly Roberson, Research Coordinator for Gray’s Reef ocean. VOA

In the decades since Gray’s was established, large and more stringently protected zones have popped up all over the world.

Phoenix Island Protected Area, established in January 2008, covers more than 150,000 square miles off the tiny island republic of Kiribati and has been cited by scientists for bringing back species of fish in just over a decade. And an area nearly twice as large, the Rapa Nui Marine Protected Area, now surrounds Easter Island after its creation in 2018.

Former U.S. Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama greatly expanded the U.S.’s protected areas. Bush created the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument off Hawaii and Obama extended it late in his presidency to a whopping 582,578 square miles.

Smaller protected areas, such as the 5,000-square-mile Northeast Canyons and Seamounts National Monument off New England, created by Obama in 2016, also have been established.

Nine years ago, the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity agreed to the goal of protecting 10% of the world’s oceans by 2020. The UN said in 2017 that it was on its way to meeting that target and that protected areas “contribute substantial social, economic and environmental benefits to society” and “provide food security and livelihood security for some 300 million people.”

One commonly cited problem with the protected areas is the difficulty of enforcing rules that restrict commercial fishing and other intrusive industries from vast areas where few people ever venture, particularly in developing parts of the world where resources are limited.

Cannonball jellyfish float in the water as scuba divers surface after diving at Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary. VOA

Creating new protected areas without reducing fishing quotas won’t save species, says Daniel Pauly, a professor of fisheries at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.

And that is not a small issue, as some estimates say the number of fish in the ocean was reduced by half from 1970 to 2015, with warming oceans expected to add to that loss.

“Rebuilding will require not just new protected areas, but it will require quotas reduced,” Pauly says.

Many scientists believe protecting broad swaths of the ocean simply might not be enough.

Last year, a group of researchers led by University of North Carolina marine ecologist John Bruno published a pessimistic study of the effects of climate change on the world’s marine protected areas. Their findings: those areas will warm by nearly 5 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100, destroying species and marine life despite the existence of protections.

Bruno’s study reflects the reality of coral bleaching in places such as the Great Barrier Reef off Australia, which is heavily protected but still vulnerable to the impacts of a warming world.

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It’s a lesson that illustrates the legacy of Gray’s Reef: Protected areas can save pieces of the ocean from extinction, but they can’t save it all.

“If it was up to me, we’d protect about 30% of the ocean,” Bruno says. “We’re just saying we’ve got to directly address climate change with emission reduction. There’s no way around it.” (VOA)