The new budget request released Monday by the White House takes a major step forward in recognizing the strategic importance of international climate finance to the United States.
The 46% increase in request provides a very clear signal to the international community that the Obama administration is serious about meeting its commitments to developing nations in their quests to shift to lower emissions and more climate-resilient futures.
This international climate finance package is of direct strategic importance to the United States. It can help seal a strong deal in this year’s negotiations. It will help developing countries put forward more ambitious pledges of their own, when they see the rich countries doing our part. And these are on top of all the good work it will help achieve in strategic partner countries around the world: on-the-ground clean energy development, forest protection to maintain and increase nature’s natural carbon sinks, and climate-proofing of fragile communities.
A good chunk of the funding is requested to make the final payment on President Bush’s commitment to the Climate Investment Funds (CIFs), a group of World Bank managed funds that are closing out their fundraising. But the increase is directed almost entirely to the Green Climate Fund, a long-envisioned replacement for the temporary CIFs. The GCF will advance the world’s cooperation in assisting developing countries to grow smarter – with fewer climate-warming energy emissions (which benefits us here at home), with more healthy and standing forests (which help soak up our emissions as well as theirs) and with more built-in resilience to the changing nature of a warming world (so more extreme weather events won’t translate into more human disasters).
Of course, a budget request from the Administration is not the same thing as an allocation of funding by Congress, which holds the purse strings and has shown some… hesitation regarding the GCF. We should expect that the back-and-forth between the President and Congress on the amount and form of US support for developing country climate action to be “full of sound and fury.”
But the international community would do well to remember three things, while watching the U.S. budget process from afar (with looks of confusion mixed with amusement, I’m sure). First, it is an honest negotiation: both sides will probably need to move from their initial positions. The outcome for international climate finance will depend on how high a priority it is to the Administration, and, conversely, how much Congress thinks it can gain by refusing the request. Second, the United States keeps its promises: international financing commitments, once made, are taken quite seriously and delivered upon… even if it may take a bit longer than planned in the end. And third, developing country partners have a roll to play, by communicating to U.S. policymakers how critical international support is to maximizing their own domestic climate ambition and thus the overall success of an international climate agreement.