Trump budget: US to stop funding UN climate process

“America First” budget would axe 20% of the UN’s climate body’s funding and $2bn to help developing countries deal with global warming

The US people need a government that puts "the needs of its own people first," US president Donald Trump said in his budget foreword. (Pic: Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

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In a budget blueprint released on Thursday morning, US president Donald Trump proposed sweeping cuts to US financial support for the global fight against climate change.

The title page called it the “America First” budget. “Our aim is to meet the simple, but crucial demand of our citizens – a Government that puts the needs of its own people first,” said Trump in a foreword addressed to the US Congress.

The budget, which covers the 2018 financial year, is likely to be substantially amended as it goes through Congress.

The State Department section of the budget proposal said the Global Climate Change Initiative (GCCI) would be eliminated. According to its 2016 budget request the GCCI, which was set up by president Barack Obama, directs money to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) – the diplomatic and scientific branches of the UN’s climate process.

Through the GCCI, the State Department is a major funder of the UNFCCC, providing €6 million (US$6.44m) each year – roughly 20% of its operating budget.

An official told Climate Home the State Department had not provided any funds appropriated in the 2017 financial year to the UNFCCC or IPCC.

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Nick Nuttall, spokesperson for the UNFCCC, said: “We understand that the new US administration today published its first budget proposal. We also understand that approval of such a budget can be a long and complex process and we will follow it with interest.”

The UNFCCC has been deeply unpopular among conservative Republicans, both for its core mission and for its acceptance of the state of Palestine as a full member. The GOP platform for the 2016 election held that payments to the organisation were against a US law that prohibits payments to UN bodies that recognise Palestine.

The GCCI is also a major funder of the Montreal Protocol, which protects the ozone layer from harmful chemicals. It was amended last year to control hydrofluorocarbons, a class of potent greenhouse gases used in air conditioners.

Under the proposed budget, the State Department would also make savings by “eliminating US funding related to the UN’s Green Climate Fund and its two precursor Climate Investment Funds”.

The US has pledged $3bn to the Green Climate Fund (GCF). In one of his last acts as president, Barack Obama sent $500m to the fund, but the total released remains just $1bn.

The GCF is the major international instrument for financing climate-related projects in the developing world. If the US fails to deliver the rest of its pledge it will leave a $2bn hole in the fund’s $10bn balance sheet. Developing countries, which are suffering the greatest consequences of climate change but did little to cause it, see this support as a matter of justice.

A spokesperson for the UN secretary-general António Guterres issued a statement in response to the budget in which he said he was ready to hold discussions with the US on how to reform the UN to “create a more cost-effective organisation to pursue our shared goals and values”. But that “abrupt funding cuts can force the adoption of ad hoc measures that will undermine the impact of longer-term reform efforts”.

Guterres said: “The international community is facing enormous global challenges that can only be addressed by a strong and effective multilateral system, of which the United Nations remains the fundamental pillar.”

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Domestically, an estimated $77bn of spending on climate programmes is spread across many government agencies, Bloomberg reported this week. That will make it difficult for the Trump administration to sweep all of it away in this budget.

But the most obvious targets are getting hammered. Trump proposed a 31% cut to the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget, equivalent to 3,200 jobs in the department.

The administration said it would discontinue funding for Obama’s Clean Power Plan, which aims to cut carbon emissions from the energy sector. The plan was announced in 2014 and contributed to the striking of an historic bilateral climate agreement between the US and China. The willingness of the world’s two biggest polluters to commit to emissions reductions in turn laid the foundation for international collaboration on the Paris Agreement in 2015.

Reports this week suggested Trump will also sign an executive order that reverses the legislation through which Obama introduced the plan.

The EPA budget said the administration also intends to stop funding climate change research. The US is a key source of climate science and data. Earlier in the year, British scientists said the withdrawal of the US from the field would damage climate science everywhere.

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