GENEVA (AP) -- A new global fund on climate change that aims to channel $100 billion a year in aid to poor countries selected officials from South Africa and Australia as its leaders at its first meeting Thursday.
The U.N.'s Green Climate Fund -- created as part of a deal struck in December 2011 at the 194-nation climate talks in Durban, South Africa -- will be led by Zaheer Fakir, head of international relations for South Africa's environment agency, and Ewen McDonald, deputy head of Australia's international development agency, the fund said in a statement.
In what is hoped will serve as a new model of climate financing, the fund would receive and distribute $100 billion that rich nations have pledged annually by 2020 to help poorer countries adapt to changing climate conditions and to move toward low-carbon economic growth.
The commitment to provide those billions in climate aid through the new "green" fund came as part of a hard-fought agreement in Durban that was meant to set a new course for the global fight against climate change for the coming decades.
But the U.N.-brokered climate agreement did not specify how that money would be mobilized, and a series of technical decisions on how and where it should be run and even how it could raise those funds were put off for later.
Meeting in Geneva by invitation of the Swiss government, the fund's new 24-member board began by organizing itself, setting rules and hearing offers from six nations that would like to host the fund's operations: Germany, Mexico, Namibia, Poland, South Korea and Switzerland.
Swiss Cabinet member Doris Leuthard, who directs the Federal Department of the Environment, Transport, Energy and Communications, welcomed the board to Geneva for the fund's inaugural three-day meeting, which runs through Saturday. She also began pressing the Swiss case for serving as the fund's long-range hosts.
The initial meeting in Geneva was set back for months by bureaucratic delays. Advocacy groups say the U.N.-administered fund can't get going fast enough but want to ensure it remains transparent to outside observation and participation.
"The timing really couldn't be more urgent. In the U.S. alone, we've heard all these stories about droughts and massive crop damage and rampant wildfires this summer with concerns over rising food prices," said Brandon Wu, a senior policy analyst at ActionAid USA. "A lot of scientists have linked the summer's weather trends to climate change, and it's only going to get worse by the end of the century. The effects are even more severe in developing countries, where vulnerable smallholder farmers don't have the protection of things that we have here like crop insurance and social safety nets."
The fund was created in addition to the $30 billion in "fast-track financing" for poor countries that rich nations agreed to provide at the December 2009 climate talks in Copenhagen. The Green Climate Fund is envisioned as the world's biggest financier for helping the developing world mitigate and adapt to climate change from 2020 onward.
The board's members include a Chinese assistant finance minister, a U.S. deputy assistant treasury secretary, a Russian deputy chief in the president's office, a Danish central banker, a Czech deputy finance minister, a Bangladeshi environment minister, and a Pakistani U.N. ambassador.