Congress Offers $1 Billion for Climate Aid, Falling Short of Biden’s Pledge

Source: By Lisa Friedman, New York Times • Posted: Thursday, December 22, 2022

Activists called the funding to help developing countries cope with the impacts of climate change “hugely disappointing.”

The $1 billion falls far short of the billions President Biden had pledged to international climate change spending.
Doug Mills/The New York Times

WASHINGTON — Congress has proposed $1 billion to help poor countries cope with climate change, a figure that falls significantly short of President Biden’s promise that the United States will spend $11.4 billion annually by 2024 to ensure developing nations can transition to clean energy and adapt to a warming planet.

The money is part of a sprawling $1.7 trillion government spending package that lawmakers made public early Tuesday and are expected to vote on this week.

Democrats had sought $3.4 billion for various global climate programs but Republicans quashed what they called “radical environmental and climate policies” in the spending bill. The Republicans are poised to assume control of the House in January, further dimming prospects for additional climate funds for at least the next two years.

The setback for Mr. Biden comes a month after he appeared at the United Nations climate talks in Egypt, where he promised to deliver financial help to developing nations that are suffering from the impacts of a climate crisis for which they are ill-prepared and did little to cause.

“The climate crisis is hitting hardest those countries and communities that have the fewest resources to respond and to recover,” Mr. Biden told the gathering.

The United States is the country that has historically pumped the greatest amount of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

This is the second year in a row in which Congress has reduced the president’s requests for climate aid. Activists said the inability of the Biden administration to meet its own goals undercut the United States’ credibility abroad and called into question the president’s own commitment to “reestablish the United States as a trustworthy, committed, global leader on climate.”

Democrats blamed Republicans, whose votes are required to pass the spending bill, which did not include any money for the Green Climate Fund, a United Nations-led program.

“Congress just bankrolled a defense bill that was $45 billion bigger than the president requested, but we failed to provide a penny to meet our commitments to the Green Climate Fund — a step that would truly help us defend our country and our planet from chaos and instability,” Senator Edward J. Markey, Democrat of Massachusetts, said. He said Republicans’ “refusal to engage on climate change in any meaningful way” was responsible for the shortfall.

A spokesman for Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the minority leader, did not respond to a request for comment.

Saloni Sharma, a spokeswoman for the White House National Security Council, said in a statement that meeting Mr. Biden’s $11.4 billion goal was a top priority. “Over the past several weeks and throughout the past weekend, members of the administration worked to secure funding in FY23 that puts us on a path to achieving this goal,” she said. “We will continue to work with Congress to make achieving this goal in FY24 a reality.”

Helping other nations adapt to and mitigate damages caused by a warming planet has always been a tough sell in Congress. President Barack Obama promised $3 billion to the Green Climate Fund, but only delivered $1 billion of that money. President Donald J. Trump called the fund a “scheme to redistribute wealth out of the United States” and zeroed out money for it, as well as the bulk of other global climate finance.

The $1 billion in international climate money in the spending bill would be spread over several programs including the Climate Investment Funds, which are housed at the World Bank and are aimed at helping countries develop clean energy; the Global Environment Facility, a multilateral fund that focuses on biodiversity and tends to win Republican support; and smaller programs directed at assisting the world’s poorest nations. The money marked a .09 percent increase from Congress’ allocation in 2021.

Meanwhile, the Biden administration has raised the stakes. At the United Nations climate summit in Egypt the United States agreed to the creation of an entirely new fund aimed at helping poor countries that are experiencing irreversible losses from climate change. The United States and other industrialized countries did not commit to a specific level of funding.

In an interview this month, John Kerry, Mr. Biden’s special climate envoy, said that the United States has a history of bipartisan support for what he called “humanitarian efforts.”

Christina DeConcini, director of government affairs at the World Resources Institute, agreed, pointing to rare areas of agreement like bipartisan support to help Haiti after the 2010 earthquake. Getting congressional backing for international climate issues was a matter of educating lawmakers, she said.

Jake Schmidt, the senior strategic director for international climate issues at the Natural Resources Defense Council, an advocacy group, said Mr. Biden could still meet his $11.4 billion annual goal but said it would be a “steep climb” and would require changes at agencies where the administration has significant influence, such as the Export-Import Bank of the United States.

Activists abroad, however, said they were increasingly frustrated with what they see as a bipartisan American disinterest in helping poor nations cope with the consequences of a crisis it didn’t cause.

“The U.S. is the world’s largest historical emitter, and on a per-capita basis the U.S. remains one of the biggest carbon polluters,” said Mohamed Adow, the founder and director of Power Shift Africa, a group that aims to mobilize climate action across the continent. He called the U.S. funding levels “hugely disappointing” and said they showed a disregard for the United Nations climate body that established by global consensus ways to help poor nations.

“The U.S. has promised much in terms of climate finance over the years but it’s failed to deliver on many of these promises,” Mr. Adow said.

Max Bearak contributed reporting from New York.