Donald Trump has suggested that countries like China, India and Russia should pay a bigger share of climate finance, in an interview with Reuters.
During his election campaign, Trump said he would “cancel” the deal, but since taking office he has come under pressure to reconsider.
“I can say this, we want to be treated fairly,” he told the newswire. “It’s not a fair situation because they [other countries] are paying virtually nothing and we are paying massive amounts of money.”
Energy chief Rick Perry was the latest of Trump’s cabinet to speak publicly on the issue, saying the US should stay at the table but “renegotiate”.
It remains unclear what the US would or could change. The Paris pact is based on voluntary national targets and has been ratified by 144 countries, including the US.
“This is simply an excuse to shirk responsibility and abdicate leadership,” said Joyce Mxakato-Diseko, the ambassador who led negotiations for the G77 developing country bloc in Paris.
Trumps remarks were “founded on lack of understanding of the extraordinary spirit of Paris to to accommodate the US without sinking the collective level of global ambition,” she added. “With this, how can the world trust the word of the US? It can’t opt in and out of commitments and leadership as and when narrow self interest dictates.”
Extracting concessions on climate finance might allow Trump to save face while reneging on his campaign promise to quit the Paris deal, observers suggested.
Chai Qimin, an international climate cooperation expert at China’s National Development and Reform Commission, told Climate Home: “Obviously, Mr Trump wants to renegotiate the Paris Agreement, and he seems like to stay on the table and bargain with China, India, Russia and other parties for an inequitable offer. Maybe he is just going to give himself an out.”
The Paris Agreement does not impose enforceable finance obligations on specific parties. What it does say is developed countries “shall provide financial resources” to help poorer countries develop sustainably and protect citizens from the impact of climate change.
That is based on the understanding that industrialised countries got rich by burning fossil fuels, causing climate change that hits the poor hardest.
Prior to the Paris summit, the rich world committed to mobilise $100 billion of climate finance a year by 2020. As part of that, the Green Climate Fund was set up with $10bn of donations.
Under Barack Obama, the US pledged $3 billion to the fund. Of this, $1bn was transferred before he left office. Trump’s budget sets out to block the rest.
Zaheer Fakir, a board member of the GCF from South Africa, expressed bemusement at Trump’s remarks. “The contributions countries make to the GCF are purely voluntary; they are not based on any mandatory agreement,” he said.
If the US stops paying into the GCF, its seat on the board comes into question, he added. “It becomes problematic when you have a board member who is not contributing but has a seat on the board and might be obstructive.”
Middle-income countries including South Korea, Mexico and Peru have chipped in to the GCF. Others regularly replenish multilateral development banks, which support climate change projects.
While China is not contributing to the GCF, President Xi Jinping has committed CNY20 billion ($3.1bn) to a “south-south climate cooperation fund”.
In a recent statement to the UN, diplomat Liu Jieyi said the fund was working with developing countries to train 1,000 experts and start 100 projects.
Pointing to that fund, Greenpeace campaigner Li Shuo said: “When it comes to climate action, the ‘China card’ that US politicians are so fond of does not work any more…
“There is nothing in the Paris Agreement that treats the US unfairly as President Trump claimed. Rather, the threat to withdraw from the Paris Agreement and the sabotage conducted on US domestic climate policies are the most unfair treatment to the international community.”