By Devin Henry - 11/20/15 11:31 AM EST
Republicans are taking aim at a new “Green Climate Fund,” as they look to weaken President Obama’s hand in global climate talks later this month.
The pot of money, a $3 billion climate change pledge the president’s administration made last year, is something officials hope to bring to the negotiating table at United Nations summit in Paris.
“We pledge that Congress will not allow U.S. taxpayer dollars to go to the Green Climate Fund until the forthcoming international climate agreement is submitted to the Senate for its constitutional advice and consent,” 37 Republican senators wrote in a letter to Obama on Thursday.
The fund, a pool of public and private money, is meant to help poorer nations prepare for climate change.
A Senate appropriations bill cleared the way for the first portion of American funding earlier this year, but Republicans committed this week to blocking it in a final budget deal.
“When it comes to the financing: I know a lot of people over there, the 192 countries, assume that Americans are going to line up and joyfully pay $3 billion into this fund,” said Sen. James InhofeJames InhofeSenate Republicans push for Flint aid bill Menendez rails against Puerto Rico bill for 4 hours on floor EPA proposes climate rule incentives despite court hold MORE, the chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee. “But that’s not going to happen.”
Republicans have looked to throw up obstacles in Obama’s path toward a climate accord, but they do not have a clear way to block it. Unless a deal is deemed to be a treaty requiring Senate ratification, it won’t come before lawmakers for a vote.
But the climate fund, something developing nations have long wanted as part of the climate talks, might give Republicans some leverage — or at least allow them to send a signal to the world about their opposition to a final climate deal.
“It’s important to make clear, I think, to the rest of the world that as these climate talks approach, that Congress has the power of the purse,” Sen. Shelley Moore CapitoShelley Moore CapitoOvernight Finance: Trump threatens NAFTA withdrawal | Senate poised for crucial Puerto Rico vote | Ryan calls for UK trade deal | Senate Dems block Zika funding deal Senators rally for coal miner pension fix 14 dead in West Virginia flooding MORE (R-W.Va.) said this week.
In his 2016 budget request, Obama asked lawmakers to provide $500 million for the fund, but House and Senate appropriators have given him nothing. Congress has yet to finalize its 2016 spending plan, though the deadline to do so — Dec. 11 — is the last day of the U.N.’s climate talks, symmetry that may give Republicans a chance to complicate the process.
Earlier this year, Sen. Jeff MerkleyJeff MerkleyOvernight Energy: Senate panel backs 0M for global climate fund Senate panel approves 0M for international climate fund The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE (D-Ore.) inserted a provision into a Senate appropriations bill giving the State Department the right to contribute to the Green Climate Fund using its own budget, without prior congressional approval.
That amendment won bipartisan support in committee, but it must now survive funding negotiations ahead of a looming deadline.
“I think the position taken by the Senate Appropriations Committee, which was a bipartisan vote to provide funds, is the right position and I hope it will prevail in conference,” Merkley said on Thursday.
An Obama administration official said that the White House is “monitoring” the status of the fund in spending negotiations.
International climate negotiators launched the Green Climate Fund in 2009 with the goal of providing $100 billion a year in financing for poor countries by 2020. U.N. administrators funded its first round of projects earlier this month, providing $168 million for infrastructure upgrades, wetland improvements and other proposals in South America, Africa and Asia.
Merkley said the fund is designed to show that developed world — which has emitted most of the greenhouse gases driving climate change — is committed to addressing the problem now by supporting poorer countries’ efforts to convert to clean energy or otherwise contain the impact of climate change.
“The financing is important because the nations that are very poor, that are seeing these consequences, are saying well, we’re going to get involved now, but help us take on these consequences that weren’t of our making,” he said. “You all were the primary causers, help us out with the real problems we’re having.”
Developing countries have said the fund is critical to a climate deal in Paris.
“It’s a very large part of their negotiating positions,” said Robert Stavins, director of the Harvard University Project on Climate Agreements. “They will hold out — the developing countries will hold out — on anything they can, such as the $100 billion, to get as much money as they can.”
But Stavins said Republican threats against the fund likely won’t push countries away from the negotiating table.
And even if Republicans can block federal financing for the Green Climate Fund, he said, it won’t doom a climate accord. Other countries have contributed funding, the private sector is pitching in heavily, and the centerpiece of any deal would be countries’ carbon emission reduction goals — not funding.
Either way, Democrats on Capitol Hill say they’re confident Republicans will back down from their threats against the fund.
Sen. Barbara BoxerBarbara BoxerDems leery of Planned Parenthood cuts spark Senate scuffle Calif. Dem missed votes, sit-in on trip to Spain Hispanic Caucus PAC looks to flex its muscles in 2016 MORE (D-Calif.), the ranking member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, said Thursday that she expects Republicans won’t have the will to back out of commitments the U.S. has made to an international project that is already moving forward.
“It’s already in progress, and it would have to be a herculean effort for Republicans to stop it,” she said. “It’s already in existence, the fund. It would be really difficult to try and take us back.”
But top Republicans — looking for whatever leverage they can find on a climate accord — have promised to hold out.
“Congress will weigh in on whatever comes out of the Paris climate talks, and the money that the president has requested as part of his budget,” Sen. John BarrassoJohn BarrassoGOP senator: Obama ‘believes he is above the law’ Republican senator expects Trump will 'embrace' GOP platform Sunday shows preview: Bernie soldiers on MORE (R-Wyo.) said at a GOP leadership press conference this week. “Congress will have a say.”