Budget deal falls far short on Biden’s promise of climate aid

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For weeks, the Biden administration has urged Congress to support climate aid to poor countries, but the funding deal struck by lawmakers includes just a fraction of the spending President Biden has pledged to those nations.

The Senate is now debating a bipartisan, roughly $1.7 trillion deal to fund the US government, but it includes roughly just $1 billion to help poor countries transition to clean energy and fund adaptation programs, a blow to Biden’s efforts on the worldwide fight against climate change . The president had personally pledged more than ten times that — $11.4 billion annually — and made that promise central to his pitch to other countries that all of them should do more to reduce planet-warming emissions.

The shortfall would undercut a White House that has pledged to world leaders that it would be different from prior administrations that had failed to deliver on promises to provide more money to help the developing world. It comes at a time when that funding has emerged as a major sticking point in international climate talks, with the lack of it from the United States and other rich countries helping to weaken a final deal at last month’s UN Climate Change Conference in Egypt, also known as COP27.

Developing countries have pushed for more aid to secure their support on reducing emissions, saying countries such as the United States have a responsibility to pay for the damage caused by their historic emissions that continue to warm the planet.

Pakistan helped lead that effort, after floods overwhelmed the country, causing an estimated $30 billion in damage to infrastructure and unleashing malaria, cholera and other infectious diseases through a population deprived of shelter, clean water and food.

At COP27, flood-battered Pakistan leads push to make polluting countries pay

Republicans — and some Democrats — have long bristled at increasing international climate aid, such as the Green Climate Fund, arguing that the United States is already a world-leading donor to needy countries and would do better to help American families deal with inflation. And while both chambers of Congress are still controlled by Democrats, congressional leaders jettisoned a larger aid package in part because of the need to enlist Republican votes to pass a bill by the end of Friday and prevent the shutdown of key federal agencies and programs.

“It’s frustratingly impossible on the Hill,” John D. Podesta, Biden’s senior adviser on climate change, said in an interview. “As long as you need Republican votes, the Green Climate Fund gets shoved off the table.”

The administration said last month that securing the $11.4 billion would be among its top asks in year-end budget talks. John F. Kerry, the US special envoy on climate, was deployed to lobby congressional leaders. Shalanda Young, the administration’s top negotiator as director of the Office of Management and Budget, had made it a top priority.

But the bill Congress made public Tuesday produced far less. Among other smaller pots of funding it includes three major outlines. The largest is $270 million for adaptation programs, especially for Asian and Pacific Ocean countries. An additional $260 million is earmarked for clean-energy programs, especially in Africa. It would spend $185 million on “sustainable landscapes programs.”

Administration officials stressed that their goal is to secure the funding by a year from now, for the next fiscal year, 2024. They said they won’t stop asking for the money, even though Republicans will take control of the House next month.

“The President has made clear that he is going to fight to see this fully funded,” a White House spokeswoman said in an email. “Over the past several weeks and throughout the past weekend, members of the Administration worked to secure funding in (fiscal year 2023) that puts us on a path to achieving this goal. We will continue to work with Congress to make achieving this goal (by next year) a reality.”

Biden pledged $11 billion in international climate aid. Can Congress deliver?

Beyond the new $1 billion Congress is on the verge of approving, the administration has billions from previously funded programs that it can tap into through agencies such as the US International Development Finance Corporation and the Export-Import Bank.

The administration may have good intentions, but its failure to convince Congress now is likely to prevent it from hitting its fundraising goal by next year, said Nat Keohane, president of the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, an environmental nonprofit organization.

“This is the last chance,” he said. “This was with Democratic leadership, and it’s not going to be easier with Republican leadership of the House.”

Environmentalists had urged Congress to act now, before the GOP takeover of the House. Both environmental groups and negotiators representing poor nations have said the United States has a moral responsibility to fulfill its promises on climate aid and that it is unlikely to lock down the cooperation it wants from other countries on emissions cuts if it doesn’t meet its pledges on financing.

Friction over unfulfilled promises has hamstrung that effort for years. In 2009, at a UN climate summit in Copenhagen, developed countries agreed to provide $100 billion annually to help developing countries transition to greener economies and adapt to mounting climate disasters. But more than a decade later, rich countries are still nearly $20 billion short of what was promised in 2020, according to an analysis from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.