Tony Juniper: We needed promises of hard cash. All we got was a fudge

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The EU summit yesterday managed to fudge a deal on climate change finance. There was no mention of what the EU will be prepared to pay, and without numbers one is left wondering how much progress has been made since the original Framework Convention on Climate Change was thrashed out in Rio de Janeiro more than 17 years ago.

That treaty stated: "The developed country Parties... shall provide new and additional financial resources to meet the agreed full costs incurred by developing country Parties in complying with their obligations". This commitment was made in relation to adaptation and the low-carbon technology transfer that would enable developing countries to "leap frog" the dirtiest phases of development. The trouble is, it hasn't happened.

The reluctance of EU countries this week to make a clear commitment on the subject of climate change finance before the Copenhagen climate change summit provides yet another example of the disastrous political short-termism and self-interest which has dogged the climate change finance issue for nearly two decades.

It is instructive to note the contrast between the way in which EU leaders leapt to the defence of the financial system last year, and their response to the challenge we face now in securing a fair and effective climate change treaty. Last year they opened their cheque books on our behalf without even blinking. This week the danger is far more profound. It's about the survival of human civilisations – yet the leadership has evaporated.

Each country that has expressed reluctance to talk numbers has its own reasons for not acting decisively. Some say it's better to wait until Copenhagen before setting out the EU's specific negotiating stance. But if the EU cannot agree a common position based on what it is prepared to pay at one of its own summits, do European leaders really believe they will be in any better position to form a clear collective position when they arrive in Copenhagen?

The propensity for crisis management and delaying leadership in the face of an existing threat does not work for climate change. While it was possible to bail out the banks, creating stability in the Earth's climate system will not be so straightforward. This crisis must be dealt with before it happens. The climate science tells us that we are now at the last tick of the clock. The risks that some EU countries are prepared to take as we approach what could be our last chance to avoid catastrophe not only betray a short-term mentality, they are illogical, immoral and ill-informed. Vague statements of intent are not enough. It's time to stump up the cash.

Tony Juniper is an author, environmental campaigner and sustainability adviser

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