Seattle pledges support for climate fund barred by Trump

Council resolution goes beyond backing emissions reductions, stepping up to honour the financial commitments made by the US

Seattle councillor: “If the US government and Donald Trump aren’t going to take climate change seriously, cities and states will join together at to step up."(Photo: Rattlhed)

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The US city of Seattle council has voted unanimously to do its part to fill a $2bn hole left in the UN’s primary climate fund by president Donald Trump.

In a resolution passed on Monday, councillors pledged to “uphold its portion of the United States’ former commitment to the Paris climate accord”.

This included a commitment for the city to take the lead on “supporting the Green Climate Fund [GCF]”, to which Trump said the federal government would no longer give money.

The Seattle resolution appears to be unique in its support for the fund. Hundreds of state and local government entities have come forward in recent weeks to restate their own commitment to the Paris deal, including some that have passed official laws or statements. But most have focused on emissions reductions, rather than the obligations of rich countries to the world’s poor.

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Last week, Hawaii’s governor signed a law aligning the state’s emissions strategy with the goals of the Paris deal. On 1 June a coalition of 298 city mayors signed a letter pledging to “intensify efforts to meet each of our cities’ current climate goals, push for new action to meet the 1.5 degrees Celsius target, and work together to create a 21st Century clean energy economy,” the letter said. But no mention was made of the Green Climate Fund.

The We Are Still In coalition of more than 1,000 state governors, mayors, college and university leaders, businesses and investors also recently affirmed its commitments to the Paris deal. But again failed to recognise the importance of climate finance, which was the major reason poor countries were convinced to sign up to a deal to fix a problem they were not responsible for creating.

Alex Lenferna, a climate justice researcher at the University of Washington, said We Are Still In had “overlooked” a key aspect of the Paris accord.

Comment: US cities and states back Paris deal but ignore climate finance

The states and cities in the coalition represented a combined GDP of $6.2 trillion, said Lenferna. “Between them it seems it would be more than possible to fill the gap in the Green Climate Fund created by Trump, if not far surpass it.”

Under the Paris deal, the GCF is the UN’s major instrument for financing climate projects in the developing world using money donated by the countries that have caused climate change.

In a speech earlier this month, Trump said the US was spending a “vast fortune” on the fund. It is the largest donor, having given $1bn. But after Trump’s decision, the US will give no more, despite pledging a total of $3bn in 2015.

Seattle’s GDP is around 1.6% that of the US. On that measure, an equivalent contribution from the city to the US’ outstanding $2bn would be just over $33m. Paris, home of the historic agreement that was struck in 2015, is the only city to have contributed unilaterally to the GCF so far, putting forward $1.3m.

But the council resolution said it would work with concerned communities, companies and local and state governments to fulfil the commitments made by the US government.

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The only other non-national governments to have contributed to the GCF are three regions of Belgium, where the federal government is often undermined by regional divisions. Flanders, Wallonia and the city region of Brussels have sent $27.85m to the fund, on top of Belgium’s $66.9m national contribution.

The Seattle council resolution also pledged to do its bit on emissions, specifically calling on a local power utility to stop using electricity generated by coal and switch to 100% renewable sources by 2025.

“If the United States government and Donald Trump aren’t going to take climate change seriously, then cities and states will join together at a sub-national level to step up,” said council member Mike O’Brien. “The City will do its part, and I’m asking Puget Sound Energy to do the same.”

O’Brien, who campaigned against Shell’s Arctic oil drilling programme which used the port of Seattle as a base, developed the resolution alongside Seattle Mayor Ed Murray – a Democrat. The Sierra Club and 350.org Seattle were also involved.

The city’s environment office will report back to the council with recommendations for how to meet the resolution’s requirements by the end of the year.

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