Trump Budget Would Cripple U.S. International Climate Change Work

Cuts to State Department budget include essentially walking away from U.S. involvement in international climate efforts, even without withdrawal from Paris accord.

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Donald Trump budget backs away from funding international climate efforts
The Trump administration's budget proposal includes slashing all aid to international climate programs, signaling a retreat from the Paris climate accord. Credit: Getty Images

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If President Donald Trump gets his wish, America will effectively stop funding international climate change programs next year.

The White House in its 2018 budget proposal released Thursday called for combined cuts of $10.1 billion, or 28 percent, to the two leading agencies on international climate work—the State Department and U.S. Agency of International Development (USAID). This is on top of even deeper cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency and other departments with domestic climate programs.

“It’s clear that the administration intends to halt or reverse everything domestic and foreign related to addressing the challenge of climate change,” said Kei Koizumi, a top budget official in the Office of Science and Technology Policy during the Obama administration. “It’s breathtakingly consistent.”

The so-called “skinny budget” is a strong signal of the Trump administration’s priorities, department by department, but far from any kind of final spending plan. The discretionary spending covered in the proposal would require Democratic support to reach 60 votes in the Senate, which is highly unlikely.

In the joint State Department and USAID section, the directive on global climate change was mainly distilled to a single, sweeping bullet point.

“The President’s 2018 Budget,” the proposal stated, “[e]liminates the Global Climate Change Initiative and fulfills the President’s pledge to cease payments to the United Nations’ (UN) climate change programs by eliminating U.S. funding related to the Green Climate Fund and its two precursor Climate Investment Funds.”

Created by the Obama administration in 2010, the Global Climate Change Initiative is the federal government’s one-stop shop for overseas climate support. Jointly run by the State Department’s Office of the Special Envoy on Climate Change and USAID, it encompasses all climate-related bilateral efforts, including the nation’s many collaborations with China, such as the U.S.-China Clean Energy Research Center and U.S.-China Climate Change Working Group.

America’s contributions to United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (the global body overseeing the Paris climate agreement) and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (the international group assessing the latest climate research) have also come out of the GCCI in recent years. The U.S. is the world’s largest contributor to both the UNFCCC and IPCC. The U.S. contributes about 20 percent of the UNFCCC’s biennial budget of about $54 million, according to a UNFCCC spokesman.

“We understand that the new U.S. administration today published its first budget proposal,” said UNFCCC spokesman Nick Nuttall, according to Climate Home. “We also understand that approval of such a budget can be a long and complex process and we will follow it with interest.”

The GCCI umbrella also covers U.S. support for clean energy in developing countries via the Clean Energy Ministerial, as well as the Climate and Clean Air Coalition. This is a group of 51 countries devoted to reducing non-carbon climate pollution, including hydrofluorocarbons or HFCs used in refrigerants and air conditioning. Another major U.S.-led program in the GCCI is called Enhancing Capacity for Low Emission Development Strategies, which helps developing nations track and respond to climate change.

The budget also targets the Green Climate Fund, intended to help developing nations prepare and respond to catastrophic climate change. The Obama administration had pledged $3 billion to the fund; only $1 billion has been paid out so far.

Another bullet point in the budget proposal calls for a $650 million reduction in funding over the next three years for multilateral development banks, such as the World Bank. These institutions are major players in financing mitigation and adaptation projects in developing nations and they are increasingly making climate change a priority.

Because the budget does not provide a comprehensive line-by-line breakdown of cuts, it’s uncertain whether every program housed within the GCCI or other foreign climate-related efforts are destined for elimination. But it looks that way, multiple climate experts told InsideClimate News.

The budget appears to put all the global climate work “on the chopping block and it will require very specific efforts to preserve as much of it as we possibly can,” said Andrew Light, a former State Department official who is now a distinguished research fellow at the World Resources Institute.

Finalizing the federal government’s budget is a long process that starts with the White House proposal and undergoes multiple rounds of review in Congress.

Speaking from Tokyo, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson defended the need to make budget cuts at his agency. “Clearly the level of spending that the State Department has been undertaking, particularly in this past year, is simply not sustainable,” he said, according to Reuters.

The White House proposal comes amid uncertainty about whether the United States will stay or withdraw from the Paris accord. President Obama ratified the agreement last year and it has since entered into force. If America were to back out, the process would take four years. Another option is pull out of the UNFCCC, which could happen within a year. Even if there is no formal withdrawal, this budget suggests the Trump administration has no intention of actively meeting the country’s emissions target of cutting greenhouse gases 26-28 percent by 2025 compared to 2005 levels, financial promises or other global climate-related pledges.

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