The US Congress has approved a mere $1 billion in international climate finance for 2022 – falling far short of Joe Biden’s pledge to provide $11.4bn a year by 2024.
The budget is only $387 million more than Trump-era spending, according to calculations by Joe Thwaites, researcher on global climate finance at the World Resources Institute.
If the US continued to scale up at that rate, it would take until 2050 to get to $11.4bn, Thwaites estimates, describing the bill as “extremely disappointing for climate finance”.
President Biden promised to restore US credibility on climate action and international cooperation. Providing finance for developing countries to grow sustainably and cope with climate impacts is seen as a critical pillar of that cooperation.
Analysis by the Overseas Development Institute found the US should be providing $45-50 billion of international climate finance every year under a “fair share” calculation that includes the size of its economy and historical emissions. The $1bn voted by Congress is just 2% of its fair share.
Biden’s pledges already “fell far short of what was needed to demonstrate US commitment to climate action,” Sarah Colenbrander director of climate at the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), told Climate Home News. “But the new spending bill suggests that Congress is not willing to meet even these inadequate promises.”
Tontie Binado, technical lead on climate justice for ActionAid in Ghana, told Climate Home the $1bn approved by Congress was “a betrayal” of Biden’s promise to scale up financing for the world’s poorest and climate vulnerable.
“The ink is not yet dry on the recent IPCC report, showing the awful scale of climate change impacts that are devastating vulnerable countries. But with this announcement the US’ mask has slipped again. How can they pretend to be climate leaders when they refuse to redress the harm they have done to countries like mine?” he said.
Ahead of the Cop26 climate talks last year, Congress recommended spending levels above the $2.7bn Biden had proposed for 2022 a few months earlier. Analysts saw this as a positive sign of the US’ willingness to deliver.
But the final $1.5 trillion spending plan negotiated between the House of Representatives and the Senate has far lower amounts in almost every climate account compared with last year’s proposals.
“After much rhetoric about US climate leadership, Congress snatched defeat from the jaws of victory,” said Thwaites.
Part of the reason is that the budget for the state department and international operations received the lowest increase and far less than domestic spending. But politics were also at play. “The Biden administration did not push hard enough, the Democrats did not push hard enough and the Republicans blocked,” said Jake Schmidt, of the Natural Resources Defense Council.
“It’s woefully short of what is needed and it’s a big failure,” he told Climate Home.
The bill allocates $270m for bilateral adaptation finance – a commitment that would need to be increased more than tenfold in the next two years if Biden is to meet his commitment to provide $3bn of adaptation finance by 2024.
Notably, the bill doesn’t include any funding for the Green Climate Fund (GCF). The US owes $2bn to the UN’s flagship fund after Donald Trump reneged on a pledge to deliver $3bn to the fund under Barack Obama.
“If climate change is really a top-tier foreign priority, the Biden administration needs to find dollars for the GCF,” said Schmidt. Otherwise, “they should stop attending climate talks. The US is not credible if it cannot contribute to the fund.”
Schmidt said leftover money that hasn’t been earmarked to specific programmes could be used to pay up some of the US bill this year. If climate is made a priority, up to $900m could be made available from an economic support fund, he said.
Over the past decade, the US has been a laggard on climate finance. In 2017-18, it delivered less climate finance than France, Germany, Japan or the UK despite having an economy larger than all of them combined.
During a leaders’ climate summit he convened in April, Biden promised to double Obama-era spending to $5.7bn annually – a commitment he doubled again at the UN general assembly in September to $11.4bn a year by 2024.
The pledge reduced the shortfall towards meeting a decade-old commitment by wealthy nations to mobilise $100bn a year by 2020 to help poor and vulnerable nations cut emissions and cope with climate impacts. But it wasn’t enough to close the gap.
Days before the start of the Cop26 climate talks, rich countries were projected to belatedly deliver on the pledge in 2023.
While Congress was voting on the 2022 spending bill, climate envoy John Kerry told an informal UN Security Council meeting that increased US climate finance could help meet the $100bn goal this year, and it will “absolutely” be reached in 2023.
An “extremely odd” remark to make on the day the spending bill was released, said Thwaites. “The lack of decent US international climate funding makes it more difficult to reach the goal. If developed countries do manage to reach the $100bn commitment this year, it will be despite the US not because of them.”