"IPCC is a very good deal for the United States and the world," IPCC scientist Christopher Field said. "It would be very difficult for the IPCC to continue in its current form" if the House budget cuts squeaked through.
"Without these scientists' participation, the IPCC wouldn't be a true worldwide effort to do real assessments," said Field, who directs the department of global ecology at the Carnegie Institution for Science. "We couldn’t have an IPCC if we didn’t have the trust fund."
Field, who receives no salary from the panel or the U.S. government, co-chairs one of the four working groups within IPCC. His group is responsible for the section of the assessment focused on vulnerability and adaptation.
Energy and climate experts agree that U.S. scientific expertise, not just funding, is critical to the entire IPCC enterprise.
Elliot Diringer is the executive vice president for international strategies at the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, an independent, nonprofit and nonpartisan organization.
"The United States is the leader on climate science," he said. "To eliminate funding for these efforts is further abdication of U.S. leadership on an issue where the rest of the world so desperately wants it. Whatever the flaws are in the IPCC process, you don’t fix them by walking away."
U.S. Role Critical
The UNFCCC has evolved in fits and starts, but it remains the linchpin of a global response to climate change. Since it was adopted in 1992, 194 nations have signed on to the voluntary pact designed to stabilize planet-heating gases.
The proposed budget for 2012 and 2013 is roughly $35 million each year, which is expected to be approved at the Nov. 28-Dec. 9 climate summit in Durban, South Africa. The United States had indicated it would contribute about $4.8 million, or about 14 percent of that total.
U.S. negotiators are largely responsible for the emergence of a more realistic and balanced approach in the international climate negotiations arena, Diringer said. Refusing to fund such efforts not only sends an unfortunate signal, he added, it also could compromise this country's broader foreign policy agenda.
"If other countries are questioning our level of commitment on climate negotiations, it makes it that much tougher to win international support for other efforts that we deem vital," he said, adding that lack of cooperation could diminish "our ability to persuade other nations to collaborate."
Jennifer Morgan, who heads the World Resources Institute's climate and energy program, said some of the world's poorest nations are baffled by the U.S. pullback on support for climate action. They expect leadership from the U.S., one of the world’s top carbon emitters, so that UNFCCC climate treaty discussions can advance, she noted.
"The history of the United States is marked by amazing scientific and technological accomplishments: developing cures for disease, creating world-class computers and exploring outer space," Morgan said via e-mail. "Given the growing threats from climate change and the opportunities of clean energy, we cannot afford to sit on the sidelines or cut funding for this issue."
Inside the Appropriations Bill
After Congress finally crashed to a clunky conclusion on the debt-ceiling debate, the House Appropriations Committee postponed its planned Aug. 3 mark-up of the 2012 budget bill that the State, Foreign Operations and Related Matters Subcommittee had passed the week before.
Environmentalists find it ironic that a House loaded with climate deniers is intent on defunding a panel that is tasked with painstakingly reviewing scientific literature to convey the latest global warming realities to a lay audience.
"We call this the 'bury our heads in the sand'" bill, NRDC’s Schmidt, explained. "It’s a bit weird that the reason we can’t move forward with climate is because politicians say we need a global solution. And here we are cutting funding to the body that is trying to do just that."
Besides strangling funding for IPCC and UNFCCC, the appropriations bill also would choke off the flow of dollars this country has traditionally designated to help people in less-fortunate countries prepare for the potentially crippling blows global warming will have on their livelihoods. These include: