Bailouts have gotten us used to thinking of anything under a trillion dollars as trivial. But $10 billion of climate assistance over three years is nothing to sneeze at. No one should think that the European offer is a substitute for robust long-term financial assistance or for deep cuts in global emissions, and it doesn't seem like anyone serious does. That's no reason, though, to ignore its importance.
The "fast-start" financing, which negotiators hope will total $10 billion annually by 2012 once other countries' contributions are included, appears to be aimed primarily at helping the poorest in the world adapt to climate change, and at dealing with deforestation.
Project Catalyst has done a smart outline showing how, spent effectively, that money could meet the developing world's climate needs for the next few years. And the target is realistic: if the United States matched the European number, it would boost U.S. development assistance by a perfectly manageable 10 percent.
Delivering the money as part of a deal would also have a double-benefit: not only would it aid developing countries, it would help blunt efforts by China and other relatively wealthy developing countries to paint the West as an enemy of the world's poor. It will be harder for the Chinese to block a Copenhagen deal if doing so comes at the expense of the least developed in the world.
Michael A. Levi writes from the UN conference on climate change in Copenhagen.