Buried deep in the recent government spending bill is a minor victory for international climate change efforts.
The fiscal 2018 omnibus provided $3 million for the State Department to pay some dues to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change and its scientific cousin, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
That’s not much. The United States generally provides a combined $10 million for the two agencies. Even President Trump’s fiscal 2019 budget blueprint was more generous—offering a combined $6.4 million for the two agencies.
The $3 million amount is not explicitly mentioned in the bill’s report language. A line item that in a usual year would provide $7 million for the United Nations is expanded to $10 million for “U.N. Environment Programs.” Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) negotiated the increase during conference.
Climate advocates gave a muted cheer.
“These organizations provide critical information to communities and decisionmakers on everything from infrastructure risks as sea levels rise to health effects from rising temperatures,” said Rachel Licker of the Union of Concerned ScientistscAnd I think that kind of information is appreciated on both sides of the aisle.”
But it’s not clear when, or if, the State Department will actually transfer that funding to the U.N. Most observers say career staff at State is unlikely to make a move until secretary of State nominee Mike Pompeo is confirmed, if then.
Pompeo, who’s skeptical about climate change, might not approve an allocation—even a tiny one—to U.N. climate work, some observers say. He could use the ambiguity in the report language as permission to use it for something else.
The last time the United States ponied up for either climate organization was in January 2017, before Trump was inaugurated.
Congress showed its disdain for climate programs elsewhere in the omnibus, too.
The Green Climate Fund received no funding, and programs like the Climate and Clean Air Coalition and the U.S.-China Climate Change Working Group are effectively defunct.
Allocations for clean energy and adaptation in the Senate bill disappeared in the final version.
Meanwhile, the United States still participates in the Clean Energy Ministerial and U.S.-China Clean Energy Research Center, though the latter project is running on funds appropriated during the Obama administration.
Trump signed into law last month a surprisingly strong allocation of $139.5 million for the Global Environment Facility, which supports programs to alleviate a host of environmental ills, including climate change, biodiversity and desertification. That’s $7 million less than the fund received last year.
Joe Thwaites, who works on finance issues at the World Resources Institute, said Congress should get the credit rather than the administration. Programs that have a strong constituency in Congress were protected from administration hostility, he said.
“This is a tried and trusted fund that’s been doing good work for 25 years now, and so I think there was an understanding that the GEF was important,” Thwaites said.“Congress has always supported the GEF, so it was no deviation from the norm.”
The Multilateral Fund to help countries implement the Montreal Protocol received $31 million, down only $1 million from enacted levels—an allocation credited at least in part to former White House energy adviser George David Banks, a strong backer of the ozone treaty.
“Given the importance of the Montreal Protocol to U.S. commercial interests, the United States needs a financially healthy multilateral fund,” said Banks, adding that securing the funding was “a terrific team effort.”
The spending law also provides $123.5 million for sustainable landscapes work, which enjoys support from both Democratic and Republican lawmakers.
Sustainable landscapes, like adaptation and clean energy, were a pillar of the Global Climate Change Initiative, an informal Obama-era construct that came to cover a host of projects and programs.
Andrew Deutz, director of international government relations at the Nature Conservancy, said career staff at the U.S. Agency for International Development took care not to let their land-use work be painted too heavily with a climate change brush.
International biodiversity work was also a big winner, receiving $269 million in fiscal 2019, up $4 million from previous levels.
“We were kind of pleasantly surprised,” said Deutz.“The numbers for those things look like what we used to think of as a normal year.”
Reprinted from Climatewire with permission from E&E News. E&E provides daily coverage of essential energy and environmental news at www.eenews.net.