US: Cash for Exxon? Yes. Cash for Climate Change? No.

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On the opening day of the COP15 talks, the Obama administration is poised to provide an Exxon-led consortium with a $3 billion loan for a liquefied natural gas (LNG) project in Papua New Guinea.

The loan has been approved by the Export-Import Bank, an agency of the Obama administration, and was first reported on Friday by the Bloomberg news service. The report comes amidst increasing pressure on the U.S. to offer billions of dollars to poor and developing countries for clean energy generation and projects that will assist them in adapting to climate change.

But the financing package also runs counter to prior commitments given by Obama. Back in September, at the UN Climate Change summit, he promised: “I will work with my colleagues at the G20 to phase out fossil fuel subsidies so that we can better address our climate challenge.” A few days later, in Pittsburgh, G20 heads of state included in their final communiqué a commitment to ending these subsidies, although without specifying a timeframe.

Opponents of the Exxon deal are now raising the issue at COP15. “The Obama administration talks a good game on climate and ending fossil fuel subsidies,” Steve Kretzman of Oil Change International told The Nation, “but $3 billion for Exxon says its still business as usual in Washington.” Obama’s message to the world and to his colleagues in the G20 is to cut subsidies. But the message to agencies within his administration is to keep the subsidies flowing.

The loan approval could further undermine US legitimacy during the COP15 talks. Yvo de Boer, Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC, has made “fast-track financing” a key negotiating demand at COP15. He has called on developed nations to commit to $10 billion per year for three years beginning in 2010. The money would be used to finance adaptation to the effects of climate change, such as rising sea levels or desertification, and fund a transition in developing economies from carbon intensive forms of energy production to cleaner ones. The US has said that it will pony up its “fair share” of that amount but has not made a specific offer.

Greenpeace, which has a large and visible presence inside and outside the Bella Center, is pushing hard on the issue of financing. When asked about the Exxon-Mobile loan, Steve Herz, a policy analyst with the group, told The Nation: “For one company, for one project to receive that level of funding is huge, especially relative to the amount of financing that’s currently on the table in Copenhagen.” Pledges for “fast track financing” have been made, but questions remain about who will provide long-term financing, perhaps $300 billion a year by 2020, for clean energy and adaptation projects. Cutting global fossil fuel subsidies could go a long way for addressing both financing tracks.

Kretzman is working the halls of the Bella Center trying to link the issue of fossil fuel subsidies and climate finance. He estimates that fossil fuel subsidies among developed nations are in the range of $57 billion. “One of the key issues on the table here in Copenhagen,” he says, “is money. The US hasn’t been able to give any specific commitments yet towards climate finance. I guess Exxon comes first.”

This story was reported for The Nation as part of the Copenhagen News Collaborative, a cooperative project of several independent news organizations. Check out the constantly updated feed here. Mother Jones’ comprehensive Copenhagen coverage is here, and our special climate change package is here.

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