The case for the Green Climate Fund

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When the strongest measured cyclone ever to make landfall bore down on the Philippines in late 2013, it took 6,300 lives and left behind untold destruction. Today, the Philippines is rebuilding, thanks in no small part to millions of dollars in aid from the United States.

As the world’s wealthiest country, we take pride in stepping up when it is needed. And, unlike many issues in Washington today, both parties support the American tradition of helping those less fortunate.

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Unfortunately, disasters like Tropical Cyclone Haiyan are getting worse, according to the insurance industry. Scientists have been warning us that the storms and droughts of the future will be even more severe, and our military leaders are recognizing that this is fueling instability across the world. The United States is being called upon to act, and as a world leader, we have a moral responsibility to do so.

Action is also the fiscally responsible path. When it comes to how we use our resources to respond to this challenge, acting now so that we spend less in the future is the smart investment decision. Fortunately, we’ve taken a first step in the right direction. 

In November, the United States joined all of the major developed countries of the world in pledging a financial contribution to the newly created Green Climate Fund. This fund will help developing countries build resilience to climate-related disasters and reduce the carbon pollution that drives climate change. Our contribution to the Green Climate Fund is an investment, and the return is stability for vulnerable countries facing a changing climate. 

Both Republicans and Democrats have long recognized the value of climate-related assistance to poor countries. Former President George H.W. Bush negotiated the original United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in 1992 and created the Global Environment Facility, the first international fund to support climate change assistance to developing countries. Former President George W. Bush, along with other Group of Eight leaders, created the Climate Investment Funds in 2008. The Climate Investment Funds were explicitly intended as the pilot for a larger, future fund, and they are slated to sunset as the Green Climate Fund becomes operational.

Why would there be such widespread, bipartisan support for funding climate-related assistance overseas? Because it is in our national interest. When poor, vulnerable countries pursue climate-resilient growth, they are better able to cope with extreme weather events and experience fewer disasters. And when emerging economies build out more clean energy infrastructure, we all avoid the worst of climate change in the first place. The result is a more secure and stable world, benefiting our nation and all countries.

No country is immune from the effects of climate change, and no country can meet this challenge alone. Events like Hurricane Sandy and the ongoing drought in California foreshadow how climate change is likely to impact our own country. As we reduce emissions and build resilient infrastructure at home, encouraging more clean energy and climate-resilient development in other countries creates sturdier trading partners with fewer crises and security threats.

In the 2015 U.S. National Security Strategy, climate change was listed as a top threat to security. The Green Climate Fund is explicitly endorsed as a key safeguard against future instability necessitating military response.

United States leadership in the creation of the Green Climate Fund has emphasized accountability, fiduciary standards, environmental and social safeguards and a large role for the private sector. The Green Climate Fund is designed to mobilize private sector investment. Our continued leadership is critical to ensure the ongoing emphasis on these key features of the fund.

Strong U.S. support for the fund is important now and should be a bipartisan priority.

Earlier this year, the president made a $500 million budget request for the first installment of the Green Climate Fund. While this request is the equivalent of one-hundredth of 1 percent of the United States’ total actual budget expenditures for fiscal 2013, the benefits will be enormous.

Congress must now approve the president’s budget request for the Green Climate Fund.  The fund, with a strong bipartisan foundation, and both moral and financial reasoning, is squarely in the national interest.

Kotchen, Metcalf and Pizer are professors at Yale University, Tufts University and Duke University, respectively. Each has served as the deputy assistant secretary of Environment and Energy at the U.S. Department of the Treasury, leading U.S. efforts on the Global Environment Facility, the Climate Investment Funds and the Green Climate Fund, from 2008 until 2014.