Election Puts Obama Climate Pledge at Risk

A demonstrator wears a flag as a cape during the People's Climate March in New York, U.S., on Sunday, Sept. 21, 2014.

Photographer: Timothy Fadek/Bloomberg

President Barack Obama’s pledge to lead a global effort raising $100 billion a year to help poor nations combat climate change may be an early casualty of the Republican takeover of Congress.

Lawmakers set to gain roles in setting policy, such as Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe, have questioned spending U.S. dollars on the effort, a linchpin of efforts to win a global pact fight global warming. Inhofe, who has decried climate-change science and is the probable next chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, has said the funding is a misguided foreign-aid effort.

“This is essentially a proposal that has a double bulls-eye on its back for conservatives,” said Robert Stavins, director of the Harvard Environmental Economics Program. “It combines climate change and foreign aid.”

Obama needs the Republican Congress to approve U.S. contributions to the effort, conceived five years ago as part of United Nations-led negotiations on an agreement to cut greenhouse-gas emissions. The Green Climate Fund, which is just a part of the larger $100 billion effort, would help poor nations boost their renewable energy as well as fight flooding and droughts. A “pledging conference” will be held in Berlin on Nov. 20, the fund announced today. That’s just 10 days before a climate summit in Lima.

Republican Pushback

Getting climate funding through a divided Congress was difficult with Republicans in charge of the House and Democrats leading the Senate, “but obviously the likelihood is even less now,” Stavins said. Republicans won enough Senate seats in elections on Tuesday to reclaim the majority in both houses.

While Obama is committed to international negotiations, Republicans have sought to limit the efforts by trying, without success, to strip funding for national and international climate research and programs.

A “UN climate fund isn’t likely to be on Congress’ to-do list,” said Jeff Wood, a lawyer at Balch & Bingham and former Republican staff member on the Senate environment committee. “The president hasn’t formally asked Congress for it and, after Tuesday’s election, it seems unlikely that he could ask now with a straight face.”

Donelle Harder, a spokeswoman for Inhofe, didn’t return telephone and e-mail messages.

McConnell Effort

Don Stewart, a spokesman for Republican Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who is in line to become majority leader, said in an e-mail: “On the president’s desire to send the UN a ton of money, I’ve never heard the leader endorse that approach.”

McConnell made fighting Obama’s climate effort a main thrust of his successful re-election campaign this year, and pledged to push for measures to stop environmental regulations.

The financing is a crucial element to ensure that nations such as India and China sign on and the UN talks succeed, Stavins said. A full UN negotiating meeting with more than 190 nations will be held in Lima next month to work on a draft agreement. Success there is seen as a necessary step to securing an global accord in Paris next year.

Germany, South Korea and Mexico all made pledges to the Green Climate Fund, part of the UN climate office, with about $2.5 billion already promised. Germany and France, with economies about a fifth the size of the U.S., each promised about $1 billion. The U.S. hasn’t made its pledge yet.

Raising Funds

Climate activists say the fund needs pledges of government contributions of $10 billion this year so that overall financing can reach that annual goal of $100 billion by 2020. The climate funding would come from public and private sources, as well as entities such as the World Bank, according to the U.S. State Department.

“The call for financial support is a perennial part of the negotiations,” Todd Stern, the U.S. State Department’s climate envoy, said Oct. 14.

Environmental advocates say when George W. Bush was president, Republicans in Congress supported financing for environmental and climate measures, and so they should be willing to support new funding now.

“There are always fights about climate funding, but the fact of the matter is that there is quite a lot of climate funding already,” said David Doniger, the head of climate programs at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “These are things the United States can do to unlock commitments from the very other countries” that lawmakers say they want to see take action, he told reporters.

Funding Urged

Some Democrats today urged Obama to make a “substantial pledge” the UN’s fund.

That “may well be a necessary prerequisite for any future international agreement on climate change,” Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez and three other Senate Democratic leaders wrote in a letter to Obama today.

So far, no Republicans have stood up to make a similar request.

“President Obama’s administration is quietly handing over billions of dollars to the United Nations in the name of global warming,” Inhofe -- who calls climate change “The Greatest Hoax” -- said in a video message after a UN summit in 2012. He dubbed the fund a “United Nations Green Slush Fund.”

The funding promise made five years ago was one of the few outcomes from a disastrous meeting in Copenhagen where heads of state, including Obama, failed to agree on how to advance the fight against global warming.

For richer nations, the cash they pledge is leverage to bring the poorer governments into a deal that will restrict pollution everywhere, unlike the 1997 Kyoto pact that applied only to industrial nations.

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