Massachusetts set to enable citizens to give climate finance to vulnerable nations

In a world first, the American state is expected to adopt a bill that would let people contribute to the Least Developed Countries Fund when filing their tax return

A family takes refuge on the roof of a submerged house in the city of Sirajganj, Bangladesh (Photo: Moniruzzaman Sazal / Climate Visuals Countdown)


The people of Massachusetts will soon be able to directly contribute finance to support some of the world’s most climate vulnerable countries. 

A bill expected to be adopted shortly by the state’s legislature will allow its citizens to voluntarily make a donation to the Least Developed Countries (LDC) fund when filing their tax returns.

The fund was established by the UN to help the world’s poorest countries cope with the impacts of climate change. It has financed hundreds of projects worth $1.7bn.

With no opposition to the proposal, the bill would make Massachusetts the only sub-national authority where citizens are able to contribute directly to climate finance.

“This is climate justice on a level that many people haven’t really thought about before,” said Larry Yu, co-chair of the Climate Reality Project Boston Metro chapter, which is supporting the bill.

“Governmental bodies at all levels need to recognise the enormous inequities of the climate crisis,” he said. Massachusetts has roughly 17 times higher emissions per capita than Bangladesh. “So why shouldn’t the state contribute, particularly if federal contributions are lagging?”

The idea for sub-national actors to contribute to climate finance came from the other side of the Atlantic: in Oxford, UK.

Benito Müller, of the Environmental Change Institute at Oxford University and a former adviser to the LDC group of negotiators, has been working on ways to increase climate finance provision for developing countries.

“It became increasingly clear that we need new innovative sources of contributions to these funds, complementing the traditional donations by national governments,” he told Climate Home.

Finance to help the poorest countries cope with climate impacts and cut emissions lag far behind what has been promised. A goal to mobilise $100bn annually by 2020 won’t be met before 2023 and the latest assessment of international climate finance provision by the OECD found that only a fifth of the money reaches LDCs.

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Back in Massachusetts, Peter Fox-Penner, director of Boston University’s Institute for Sustainable Energy, took up the idea with Democratic senator Mike Barrett, who sponsored the bill.

Taxpayers in Massachusetts already have an option to contribute to six charitable causes when filing their taxes. “But none of the six speak to a real-felt need that my constituents have and that’s climate change,” said Barrett in a campaign video promoting the bill. “If you happen to think that it matters that there are people living in countries today that will be under water 30 years from now, we would give you the option of contributing to the United Nations’ LDC Fund.”

Because only governmental bodies can contribute directly to the LDC Fund, the money must be raised by the Massachusetts government, which can then pass on its citizens’ contributions, without costing it anything.

Advocates for the bill agree that the move is more symbolic than likely to raise a lot of cash.

Dorcas Robinson, of Oxfam America, which campaigned for the bill, said it was “a good first step towards climate justice” and part of an effort to bridge the climate finance shortfall.

“This approach can also educate and engage more people on the need for more ambitious climate action,” she told Climate Home.

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At a time when president Joe Biden’s flagship climate legislation is stalled in Congress and the US administration only allocated $1bn in climate finance for 2022 – far from the $11.4bn a year Biden has pledged – the bill allows Massachusetts citizen to take direct action, Robinson added.

While that doesn’t absolve the federal government from its climate obligations, “part of the intent for state action is to help ease the way for federal action, to show the federal government that the public supports doing the right thing,” Yu added.

The bill could provide a model for the other 41 states across the US which have an income tax. The Oxford Climate Policy group has already engaged with lawmakers in California.

“It would be a powerful example for sub-national bodies abroad as well,” said Yu.

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