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The U.S. has repeatedly promised to pay billions of dollars in climate funding to help less wealthy nations and has repeatedly failed to pay. Now developing countries fear the war in Ukraine is yet another delay, even as climate change causes mounting deaths around the world. NPR's Rebecca Hersher reports.
REBECCA HERSHER, BYLINE: This money is not charity. It's more like reparations. Fossil fuels were the engine that made America rich and caused climate change that's hitting developing countries the hardest. So the U.S. and other wealthy countries agreed it's only fair that they help foot the bill to protect developing nations. The number that world leaders agreed on was $100 billion per year, but the money has never fully materialized, in part because the U.S. has contributed very, very little.
MOHAMED ADOW: Effectively, the West in this case, including the U.S., owes the rest a climate debt that needs to be paid.
HERSHER: Mohamed Adow leads Power Shift Africa, a continent-wide climate advocacy group based in Kenya.
ADOW: When Biden came into office, there was a huge source of hope that he will actually take climate change seriously. And I think it's fair to say that some of that hope seems to have been misplaced.
HERSHER: Adow points to what has happened just in the last year. Last fall, the U.S. pledged that it would significantly ramp up payments to developing countries to around $11 billion per year by 2024. That was good news because a lot of countries desperately need money, for everything from cooling centers and electrical grid upgrades to deal with heat waves, to barriers that can protect people from rising seas. It's all very expensive. But in March, Congress allocated just $1 billion. Meanwhile, the U.S. sent more than 13 billion to Ukraine and is poised to send tens of billions more.
ALEJANDRA LOPEZ: Yeah, it's very disappointing. And I don't mean to be disrespectful with the Ukrainians and what's happening there. I do consider it - it is a major crisis.
HERSHER: Alejandra Lopez is a climate policy expert with Transforma, a Latin American climate think tank based in Colombia. She says it's wrong to think that climate change is less deadly than a war just because it's less acute.
LOPEZ: I mean, even if this is a very scary scenario, I think climate change continues to be scarier.
HERSHER: Just this spring, hundreds of people died in heat waves in India and Pakistan and floods in South Africa. Drought is causing devastating crop failures across a huge swath of central Africa and the Middle East. And countries in Latin America are bracing for another destructive hurricane season. The money that developing countries have available simply does not cover the costs of protecting people. A spokesperson for the State Department acknowledged to NPR that U.S. international climate funding fell short this year but said that the U.S. is still committed to increasing its spending in the future.
Trevor Houser is a climate analyst at the Rhodium Group, a climate think tank in the U.S.
TREVOR HOUSER: It is a good example of how much more we prioritize immediate crises over long-term threats like climate.
HERSHER: He says it's not that Congress took dollars that would have gone to climate projects and gave them to Ukraine instead. It's more about bandwidth.
HOUSER: Policymakers in any country have limited attention. They can only focus on so many things at a given time. And the war in Ukraine is a giant crisis that requires a lot of focus and attention. And so the biggest risk for U.S. climate action is just a lack of focus and attention.
HERSHER: And when it comes to climate change, getting distracted is really dangerous, because every day of delay means hotter temperatures and more lives lost. Rebecca Hersher, NPR News.
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