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Biden faces international climate-aid challenge in fiscal 2024

President pledged $11.4 billion a year to help poor nations, but Republicans have opposed most climate change-related spending

Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry, left, conferred with Secretary of State Antony Blinken in 2021 as President Joe Biden pledged billions in U.S. support for poor nations coping with climate change.
Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry, left, conferred with Secretary of State Antony Blinken in 2021 as President Joe Biden pledged billions in U.S. support for poor nations coping with climate change. (Anadolu Agency via Getty Images file photo)

Even with Democrats narrowly controlling both houses of Congress, President Joe Biden was unable to convince lawmakers to fully fund his requests for contributions in fiscal 2022 or 2023 to international funds that help poor nations address climate change.

Biden pledged to the United Nations in 2021 that the U.S. would give $11.4 billion annually to such funds starting in fiscal 2024. Republicans, who have opposed most climate change-related spending, will have a majority in the House next year, so Biden will face a tough fight to meet that pledge.

Biden on Dec. 23 signed the fiscal 2023 omnibus spending legislation, which included $1.06 billion for climate finance programs, a far cry from the $5.3 billion the administration wanted.

“Looking at the numbers, it very much looks like a repeat of last year,” Joe Thwaites, who tracks international climate finance at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said by phone. “It just conforms to a pattern of the U.S. making commitments on climate finance and failing to deliver.”

For the previous budget year, Congress provided about the same amount of money for climate finance.

The funding letdown for the administration comes a month after negotiators reached a breakthrough deal at U.N. climate talks in Egypt to create a new fund to help poor and at-risk nations endure climate disasters, which are driven in large part by the wealthiest nations of the world.­

That pot of money is known as the “loss and damage” fund, a long-held objective of climate campaigners over decades of international talks.

Twenty-three rich countries are responsible for about half of emissions since the dawn of the industrial age but account for far less of Earth’s population — about 12 percent — data from the Global Carbon Project, a climate database, shows.

Rachel Cleetus, policy director and lead economist at the Union of Concerned Scientists’ climate and energy program, said the amount of money for climate finance is “shameful and represents a cut once inflation is taken into account.”

Said Cleetus, “The climate crisis has precipitated a terrible, inequitable burden on poorer nations that desperately need funding to transition to clean energy and adapt to mounting climate impacts.”

Thwaites and other experts said the administration can turn to some agencies, like the Export-Import Bank or the Development Finance Corporation, to fund climate projects through their general budgets.

A State Department spokesperson said John Kerry, the former secretary of State and climate adviser to Biden, told Congress climate finance should be a priority in the bill.

‘Decent momentum’

Thwaites contrasted the funding stagnation with the new climate, health care and tax law that brought the U.S. some climate credibility on the world stage, where America has long been viewed skeptically.

“There was some decent momentum there, and for the first time in forever, pretty much, the questions around if the U.S. can meet its targets had faded,” said Thwaites, who attended the Egypt talks in November. “For the first time, there is now credibility behind” the U.S. climate goal of cutting emissions.

Developed nations promised in 2009 they would provide at least $100 billion annually for countries on the front lines of climate change to adapt to the effects of a warming planet.

As the U.S. lags behind other Western powers, like the European Union — which contributed about $24 billion in 2021 to climate finance programs — it is prodding other nations to increase their donations.

But U.S. credibility on climate finance is “almost none,” Thwaites said. “There is a U.S.-sized hole in the $100 billion climate pledge.”

One hundred organizations last month wrote Biden and House and Senate leaders, pushing for a minimum of $3.76 billion for climate finance, the amount included in spending legislation that came out of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee that funds the State Department.

In the final spending bill, Congress provided no funding for the Green Climate Fund, a U.N.-backed pool of money to help low-income nations address climate change — just as it did for fiscal 2022.

The final text provides $150.2 million for the Global Environment Facility, a multilateral fund, matching what Biden requested. But lawmakers provided $125 million for the Clean Technology Fund, managed at the World Bank, less than the $550 million the White House wanted and equal to enacted funding for fiscal 2022.

Funding patchwork

Congress provided about $52 million for the Montreal Protocol Multilateral Fund, roughly equal to current spending levels but less than the $64 million the administration requested, and $15 million for two international climate bodies — the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, or UNFCCC — matching fiscal 2022 yet less than the $21 million requested.

The administration may also tap into a fund at State — the Economic Support Fund — to help make its target. The Obama administration, for example, gave $1 billion toward international climate financing through that fund, said Niranjali Amerasinghe, executive director of ActionAid USA, the American wing of an international humanitarian group.

Some money could also be moved into climate-specific funds as loans. For example, the Treasury Department announced a $950 million loan to the Clean Technology Fund in October.

Alexia Latortue, assistant secretary for international trade and development, called that loan at the time a “down payment” toward Biden’s goal.

Beyond international wrangling over money, it’s people hammered by climate impacts in places like east Africa — where drought is causing famine and the worst food security crisis for the continent in 20 years — who will suffer from climate finance delays, Amerasinghe said.

“They’re the ones who suffer the most. From all of this,” she said. “There’s just absolutely no attention given to international climate finance.”

House Republicans, including Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., running to be speaker, have bristled at the idea of providing more funding to Ukraine for its war against Russia.

In the new Congress, Democrats would have to lead a charge for climate financing for the U.S. to meet its goals, Amerasinghe said.

“Unless next year there is just a massive effort and conviction among Democrats … to push something that is going to meet the budget request,” she said, “I don’t see how they’re going to meet it.”

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