US Republicans are expected to axe billions of dollars in climate finance when they take the White House and Congress in January.
Funds to help poor countries adapt to the impacts of global warming and develop sustainably will be redirected to domestic priorities.
“We are going to cancel billions in payments to the UN climate change programmes and use the money to fix America’s water and environmental infrastructure,” said President-elect Donald Trump in his 22 October Gettysburg address.
With a Republican majority in the Senate and House of Representatives, there appears to be little standing in his way.
“That brings a fear to African countries,” Akabiwa Nyambe, a Zambian official, told Climate Home at a side meeting of COP22 climate talks in Marrakech. “We have been looking forward to the US bringing a lot of funding into projects… It drops our faces.”
Delegates are pinning their hopes on international pressure to prompt a rethink. Many say it is too early to tell how Trump will govern. He has already backtracked on a pledge to scrap Obamacare, the incumbent’s core health policy.
Rachel Kyte, head of the UN’s Sustainable Energy for All programme, said Trump did not have a mandate to reverse US climate finance commitments. “All developed countries made promises,” she said. “A promise made has to be a promise kept.”
Notably, the US promised $3 billion towards the UN-backed Green Climate Fund, of which just $500m has been delivered. The outstanding sum is a major chunk of the $10bn seed money donated to the flagship scheme.
UN institutions are also vulnerable. The Republicans have been gunning for the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) since it accepted Palestine as a full party earlier this year.
They say continuing to fund it clashes with domestic law supportive to Israel – an argument Barack Obama rejected.
“It would be illegal for the President to follow through on his intention to provide millions in funding for the UNFCCC and hundreds of millions for its Green Climate Fund,” says the Republican platform.
A US exit would leave a $4m hole in the UNFCCC’s annual budget, more than a fifth of the total.
The secretariat has cut its staff numbers from 500 to 430 over the past two years, as donations dwindled, chief Patricia Espinosa said in a presentation ahead of COP22.
At the same time, there was a “steep increase” in demand for support to monitor and review national greenhouse gas emissions and the workload of the adaptation committee doubled.
“As we move into implementation of the Paris Agreement, there is more work ahead,” said Espinosa.
It is “a political mechanism, not an unbiased scientific institution”, says the Republican manifesto. “Its unreliability is reflected in its
intolerance toward scientists and others who dissent from its orthodoxy. We will evaluate its recommendations accordingly.”
Contributing $5m over the past five years, the US is the biggest backer of the IPCC. While the Republicans don’t explicitly threaten to end that, their hostility does not bode well.
Outside the UN processes, institutional inertia and a measure of Republican support is likely to keep some funding streams open.
A recent Oxfam report counts $2.27 billion a year of US climate aid delivered through bilateral channels. Much of that is in the form of loans, estimated to be equivalent in value to $0.79bn of grants.
These are longstanding programmes with bipartisan support, Oxfam’s Annaka Peterson told Climate Home. And stalemate in Congress has prevented any significant change to the federal budget for years.
“If we stay in that situation where we have a steady state budget, those things are already in there,” she said. Even though Republicans have a slim majority in the Senate, “it is not enough to push through everything they want”. But a key advocate for climate finance, Republican senator Mark Kirk, has lost his seat.
Then there was President Obama’s personal championing of the cause. In 2014, he ordered all international development aid to be climate-proofed – the kind of precaution a sceptic administration could easily reverse.
And he channeled diplomatic efforts into persuading G20 allies, for example, to stump up. “We won’t have that and we won’t really have the administration leadership valuing that part of the picture,” said Peterson.
Finally, there are multilateral initiatives like the Climate Investment Funds, into which the US injected $2 billion since 2008. Some had hoped to renew the segment supporting clean technology in major emerging economies.
That is now in doubt, although Amal-Lee Amin, climate chief at the Inter-American Development Bank, said the CIF’s focus on jobs and trade could appeal to the businessman in Trump.
“Renewables now are very affordable… I would hope, coming from a business background, that Trump sees the opportunities,” she said.
The Republican platform holds up the Millennium Challenge Corporation, created under the George W Bush presidency, as a model for international assistance. It includes programmes like Powering Africa that have climate-friendly elements.
“Foreign aid must serve America’s interests first,” the document states. “The advance of political freedom and entrepreneurial capitalism drives economic growth, catalyzes private sector development, and is the only sustainable solution to poverty.”
There is a strong focus on country partnerships and measurable results. “If they chose to shift foreign assistance to that kind of model, it could raise the importance of governance and transparency of climate finance,” said Timmons Roberts, environmental studies professor at Brown University.
Even if the US sustains some business-friendly forms of aid, net flows are expected to take a hit, particularly for the world’s poorest.
Envoys at the UN talks in Marrakech are making no promises to fill any gap left by the US, citing sluggish economic growth across the world.
“Resources are scarce – we need to ensure we doing more for less,” said an envoy from a Middle East country, who declined to say whether his government would send more to the UN if the US pulled out.
“We have met our obligation and have contributed,” said a Chinese negotiator in a media briefing on Friday.
“It’s clear there has been an economic recession and it’s harder for donor governments to justify contributions to many central processes when austerity and unemployment are biting,” said top EU negotiator Elina Bardram.