At a hearing Wednesday, Senate Republicans said that any financial commitments made by the United States to help other countries curb carbon emissions would not be approved by Congress, effectively promising to undercut the Paris negotiations before they even begin.
In the lead-up to the Paris climate conference beginning at the end of the month, nearly every nation has submitted a plan for reducing its carbon emissions. Many of those plans include asking for help — mostly technical and investment assistance, and one mechanism for that help is the Green Climate Fund.
“Congress has the power of the purse,” Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) said in her opening remarks at the Environment and Public Works Committee meeting.
Capito, who also sits on the Appropriations Committee, said that the Senate has allocated “zero dollars.”
Many of the world’s leading carbon emitters are also facing poverty and under-development. India, for instance, is the fourth-largest carbon emitter (after China, the United States, and the EU), even though millions of people there don’t have electricity. People in developing nations argue that they are victims of climate change — and are expected to contribute to mitigation strategies — but don’t have any of the advantages that come with a century of coal- and concrete-powered modernization.
“India, even though not a part of the problem, has been an active and constructive participant in the search for solutions,” the country wrote in its INDC, the emissions reduction plan it submitted to the United Nations ahead of the talks.
In the next seven years, for instance, the country hopes to increase its solar capacity five-fold “with the help of transfer of technology and low cost international finance including from Green Climate Fund.”
As Capito put it: “Financial payments are demanded by developing countries.”
Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) framed the Green Climate Fund differently.
“[Developing nations] have courageously come forward and said, ‘We understand that this is something that has to have every nation involved, but you know what, we haven’t produced much carbon and the carbon that the developed nations have produced is having a big impact on us,’” he said.
Merkley said asking for financial assistance is “certainly a reasonable proposition.” He also noted that this summer the Senate Appropriations Committee actually took out language that would have blocked Green Climate Funding contributions in a bipartisan vote.
Others argued that investing in clean energy and climate change preparedness reduces conflict and security risks.
“International climate change investments can help counter security threats that otherwise would have to be confronted with more costly interventions,” David Waskow of the World Resources Institute said.
Last year, the United States allocated less than 1 percent of its $4 trillion budget — about $8 billion — to foreign aid, including health, economic development, and humanitarian assistance.
Capito noted that on Tuesday the Senate passed resolutions to kill the Clean Power Plan.
“In my opinion, they are inextricably tied to the upcoming climate negotiations,” Capito said. “President Obama cannot meet his goal of 28 percent reduction in CO2 emissions without the full implementation of this regulation.”
U.S. climate negotiators will certainly be facing a difficult position in Paris. Congressional ratification is required for any agreement that legally binds the United States to action that is not already law, including financial commitments. Secretary of State John Kerry recently said the agreement in Paris wouldn’t be legally binding, but French President François Hollande has said the opposite. Many Republicans in Congress are keen on ensuring that they have a say in the negotiations — Republican Sen. Mike Lee (UT) and Rep. Mike Kelly (PA) are reportedly planning on introducing non-binding resolutions Thursday saying that Obama should submit any climate deal to Congress for ratification.
“I think probably everyone including negotiators from other countries understands that the president cannot appropriate money on his own,” said Oren Cass, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research. “I think the larger concern is that faced with the choice of Paris collapsing without an agreement or saying ‘Yes, I’ll go find a way to get the money,’ U.S. negotiators will say, ‘Yes, we will find a way to get the money.’
“I think it’s very important that Congress acts first and says, to the world, ‘Let’s be clear, we will not appropriate that kind of money.’”