WASHINGTON—House Republicans are applying a search and destroy tactic to international funding for global warming this budget season. It goes like this: Ax any line items with the words "climate change."
Their primary targets are a pair of crucial United Nations initiatives designed to slow warming worldwide and educate policymakers about the evolving science of climate change.
On the chopping block for 2012 are millions in funding for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the world's leading scientific advisory body on global warming. The IPCC shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Vice President Al Gore in 2007, and governments often use its periodic reviews of climate risks to set targets for reducing carbon emissions.
The GOP-led effort would also cut all U.S. funding for the 19-year-old U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the main forum for the global effort to limit emissions of heat-trapping gases. UNFCCC climate treaty talks are mired in longstanding rich-poor rifts and mistrust of the United States for its refusal to ratify the 1997 Kyoto Protocol and accept binding emissions limits.
Those who support the cutbacks say they are a sign of severe belt-tightening times. But critics say Republicans are using the budget crisis to hide their loathing of any kind of climate initiative.
Even though eliminating funding for IPCC and UNFCCC has little chance of gaining traction in the Democrat-majority Senate, some worry that the negative messages these efforts are sending will reverberate around the globe and neuter this nation’s ability to lead on the climate front.
"We cannot disengage from the world," said Jake Schmidt, who directs international climate policy for the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental advocacy organization. "Yes, these are tough fiscal times but zeroing out these funds is not going to put us back in the black."
But Nicolas Loris, an environmental policy analyst at The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, said scaling back funds for global warming is a fiscal necessity.
"When we're trillions upon trillions of dollars in debt, it's necessary to consolidate and prioritize where we're getting our biggest bang for the buck," Loris said. "If the IPCC has the clout people say it does," perhaps countries in Europe or elsewhere could pick up the funding. "I don't think the IPCC is going to disappear."
He added that the financial squeeze shouldn't jeopardize this country's status as a leader on climate change.
Jim DiPeso, policy director for the nonprofit Republicans for Environmental Protection, said it's absurd that Congress is contemplating shutting off dollars to such landmark initiatives as IPCC and UNFCCC. An already-tense atmosphere on Capitol Hill becomes hyper-taut when politicians hide behind supposed deficit-hawk credentials to justify shrinking the budget to match their ideology, he added.
"It's clear that budget issues and debt issues have taken all the oxygen out of the room," he said. "Any issue that has been over-politicized is just going to be a sitting duck. Both parties are looking to slice unpopular programs. And for the Republicans, climate change has a big target on its back."
The strategy to gut U.S. international global warming funding progressed from talk to action in the form of a one-two July legislative punch before Congress left town for its August recess.
The first punch, which could very well pass the full House, is the appropriations bill passed by the subcommittee responsible for funding the State Department and foreign operations. The second punch came from Rep. Connie Mack (R-Fla.). He attached an amendment to a separate House authorization bill that would restrict funding to mitigate the impact of global warming overseas. Mack serves on the House Foreign Affairs Committee and chairs its Western Hemisphere subpanel. His amendment, more symbolic than realistic, is considered less likely to pass.