Funny Money

graphic map depicting the world, with differing concentrations of color demonstrating temperature changesNASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio Record breaker: 2014 was the hottest year on record, according to climatologists. This map from NASA shows global temperature averages from 2010 to 2014. Yellow and red mean higher than average termperatures.

If there is any one thing that we know is unequivocally bad for the climate, surely it has to be coal-fired power plants, which are the world’s single biggest source of carbon emissions. Perhaps officials in Japan didn’t get the memo.

Turning Up the Heat

Scientists have spoken: 2014 was officially the hottest year on record. In fact, seven out of twelve months in 2014 were as hot or hotter than they have been in 134 years of global temperature record keeping, according to a new report by NASA and NOAA climatologists. Last year is no anomaly either. The 10 hottest years on record have all come since 1998.

In the US, several states, including Alaska, Arizona, California, and Nevada, had their hottest year on record, as did several countries, including Denmark and Sweden. Parts of Australia also had record-breaking heat, and Arctic sea-ice levels were the sixth lowest on record. Not everywhere was sweltering. The US East Coast and Midwest had abnormally cold winters, and Antarctica actually had record amounts of sea ice.

Negotiators and NGO observers at last year’s climate talks in Peru were outraged when it was revealed that a $1 billion expenditure the Japanese government booked under the UN climate finance initiative had actually been spent on the construction of three new coal plants in Indonesia built by Japanese companies. The new Green Climate Fund is supposed to support investments in climate change mitigation and adaptation in developing countries. Japanese officials defended the accounting scheme by arguing that the new plants are “green” because they burn coal more efficiently than an older generation of energy facilities.

UN officials and watchdog groups weren’t having it. UN climate chief Christiana Figueres told the Associated Press that “there is no argument” for spending climate finance in this manner. “Unabated coal has no room in the future energy system,” she said. “Over time, what we should be seeing is a very, very clear trend of investment into clean renewable energy.” Karen Orenstein of Friends of the Earth said, “Climate finance is such a mess. It needs to get straightened out. It would be such a shame if those resources went to fossil fuel-based technologies. It would be counterproductive.”

Unfortunately – and embarrassingly – the UN hasn’t formally defined what qualifies as climate finance, and there is no mechanism for following contributions and ensuring they are being spent on, say, almost anything other than coal-fired power plants. Given the lack of clear rules around climate finance, it looks like Japan will get away with its creative accounting. Hopefully, the UN will close this loophole before more climate finance – including money in the newly established Green Climate Fund – can be spent on any more dirty energy projects.

You Make Our Work Possible

You Make Our Work Possible

We don’t have a paywall because, as a nonprofit publication, our mission is to inform, educate and inspire action to protect our living world. Which is why we rely on readers like you for support. If you believe in the work we do, please consider making a tax-deductible year-end donation to our Green Journalism Fund.

Get the Journal in your inbox.
Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Subscribe Now

Get four issues of the magazine at the discounted rate of $20.