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Obama Pledges $3 Billion to Green Climate Fund

Climate

Following the announcement in Beijing last week by President Obama and Chinese President  Xi Jinping of a historical agreement between the two countries to cut carbon emissions, Obama moved on to the G20 meeting in Brisbane where he made another climate-positive announcement: he pledged on Friday that the U.S. will contribute $3 billion to the UN's Green Climate Fund. The fund was established to help developing countries address greenhouse gas pollution and climate change.

President Obama announced in Brisbane on Friday that the U.S. will be the largest contributor to the Green Climate Fund to help developing nations address climate change.

Obama's announcement opened the door for other nations to step up. It was quickly followed by a pledge of $1.5 billion from Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe. Then last evening, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who has dragged his feet about participation, suggested that Canada will get on board as well. The UK's David Cameron is expected to announce a $1 billion pledge later this week.

Harper's announcement comes as a particular surprise since he and Australian prime minister David Abbott jointly dissented from support of the fund when it was announced late last year. G20 meeting host country Australia is rapidly becoming the poster child for resistance to climate change action, and this weekend's conference made it clear that has not changed. Abbott opposed the new pledges, attempting to keep the issue off the meeting's formal agenda and water down the commitment language. The U.S. and other countries overrode that effort. Abbott told the world leaders at the meeting that he is "standing up for coal," while Australia's treasurer Joe Hockey said his country is focused on jobs and growth and he didn't see climate change as a problem.

These pledges should put the fund close to its $10 billion goal, and environmental groups praised the commitments.

“This week has breathed new life into global climate action," said Andrew Steer, president and CEO of the World Resources Institute. "This pledge signifies that the U.S. is serious about delivering a global climate agreement. These funds provide critical support to vulnerable communities that are unable to withstand the impacts of climate change on their own. Further, these funds can be used to support U.S. companies looking to expand low-carbon opportunities overseas."

“Make no mistake about it, momentum toward significant international action to tackle the climate crisis is quickly building," said Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club. "On the heels of a historic deal with China to cut air pollution and carbon pollution while growing our clean energy economy, President Obama’s pledge to the Green Climate Fund shows that he is taking the lead in creating a path to real progress in Paris. But this commitment will do more than lay the groundwork for a strong international agreement. It will also help developing countries fund critical investments to reduce emissions and protect themselves from the devastating effects of climate disruption, helping stabilize their future while securing our own.”

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A volcano erupts on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island on Dec. 9, 2019. Michael Schade / Twitter

A powerful volcano on Monday rocked an uninhabited island frequented by tourists about 30 miles off New Zealand's coast. Authorities have confirmed that five people died. They expect that number to rise as some are missing and police officials issued a statement that flights around the islands revealed "no signs of life had been seen at any point,", as The Guardian reported.

"Based on the information we have, we do not believe there are any survivors on the island," the police said in their official statement. "Police is working urgently to confirm the exact number of those who have died, further to the five confirmed deceased already."

The eruption happened on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island, an islet jutting out of the Bay of Plenty, off the country's North Island. The island is privately owned and is typically visited for day-trips by thousands of tourists every year, according to The New York Times.

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At the time of the eruption on Monday, about 50 passengers from the Ovation of Seas were on the island, including more than 30 who were part of a Royal Caribbean cruise trip, according to CNN. Twenty-three people, including the five dead, were evacuated from the island.

The eruption occurred at 2:11 pm local time on Monday, as footage from a crater camera owned and operated by GeoNet, New Zealand's geological hazards agency, shows. The camera also shows dozens of people walking near the rim as white smoke billows just before the eruption, according to Reuters.

Police were unable to reach the island because searing white ash posed imminent danger to rescue workers, said John Tims, New Zealand's deputy police commissioner, as he stood next to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in a press conference, as The New York Times reported. Tims said rescue workers would assess the safety of approaching the island on Tuesday morning. "We know the urgency to go back to the island," he told reporters.

"The physical environment is unsafe for us to return to the island," Tims added, as CNN reported. "It's important that we consider the health and safety of rescuers, so we're taking advice from experts going forward."

Authorities have had no communication with anyone on the island. They are frantically working to identify how many people remain and who they are, according to CNN.

Geologists said the eruption is not unexpected and some questioned why the island is open to tourism.

"The volcano has been restless for a few weeks, resulting in the raising of the alert level, so that this eruption is not really a surprise," said Bill McGuire, emeritus professor of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London, as The Guardian reported.

"White Island has been a disaster waiting to happen for many years," said Raymond Cas, emeritus professor at Monash University's school of earth, atmosphere and environment, as The Guardian reported. "Having visited it twice, I have always felt that it was too dangerous to allow the daily tour groups that visit the uninhabited island volcano by boat and helicopter."

The prime minister arrived Monday night in Whakatane, the town closest to the eruption, where day boats visiting the island are docked. Whakatane has a large Maori population.

Ardern met with local council leaders on Monday. She is scheduled to meet with search and rescue teams and will speak to the media at 7 a.m. local time (1 p.m. EST), after drones survey the island, as CNN reported.