Revitalizing US Leadership on Global Environment Challenges

The 2018 midterm election results are beginning to demonstrate traction in stopping President Trump’s assault on our common home and regaining America’s global leadership role on the urgent environmental challenges of our time. Now is the time for America to truly get back in the game by supporting international environmental and clean energy programs and making up for lost time — of which we don’t have any to spare — during the first two years of the Trump administration.

The “border deal” funding package agreed in February was a strong step toward those aims. Specifically, the Fiscal Year 2019 State-Foreign Operations (SFOPs) bill included language for bilateral renewable energy programs ($179 million) and adaptation programs ($177 million), the first time these programs have been called out explicitly.

The Fiscal Year 2020 funding package must maintain this momentum in order to further repair American leadership and ensure real progress on addressing critical international environmental challenges.

NRDC is encouraged to see a strong mark come out of the House Appropriations SFOPs Subcommittee on May 10, which included robust funding for vital programs that help advance global biodiversity, resilience, adaption, climate, and renewable energy goals. For the first time ever, the renewable energy and adaptation accounts were included in the base bill. NRDC urges Congress to maintain the House SFOPs levels and to include:

  • $17 million to maintain the U.S.’s financial commitments to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The UNFCCC and IPCC are the preeminent international venues for collaborative responses to and improved global scientific understanding of climate change. Contributing to both institutions is vital to uphold America’s influence and advance its interests in international climate change forums. The Senate unanimously ratified the UNFCCC treaty in 1992, and the U.S. has pledged to retain a “seat at the table” in the UNFCCC under the Trump administration. The IPCC showcases the work of numerous leading American scientists, and its Nobel Prize-winning reports are essential to ensuring that responses are well-grounded in scientific fact.
  • $37 million for the Montreal Protocol’s Multilateral Fund that helps developing countries meet their commitments to phase out ozone-destroying chemicals, and helps develop markets for American companies to export ozone-friendly technologies.

We were also pleased to see language in the House SFOPs mark that prohibits using funds to withdraw from the Paris Agreement and clears the way for the United States to fulfill its financial commitments to the Paris Agreement. This would send a critically important signal of faith to our international partners that America is reinvigorating its commitment to the global community's efforts to combat climate change.

The funding vehicle for these commitments is the Green Climate Fund (GCF), which is based on bipartisan economic principles that can leverage up to $6 of private capital for each $1 of public financing. That is why President George W. Bush scaled-up similar climate investments when he recognized they are strongly in the national interest — both economically and environmentally — and received bipartisan support for his $2 billion commitment to the GCF’s predecessor fund in 2008. On a similar bipartisan basis, the Senate Appropriations Committee passed an amendment in support of funding the GCF for both Fiscal Years 2016 and 2017.

The GCF is a smart investment that creates new opportunities for American companies and workers to tap into the surging global clean energy market and create good-paying American jobs. Many American companies export their technologies and innovations around the world, including to projects that are enabled by the GCF. Not investing in the GCF leaves American companies and workers on the outside of the $60 trillion clean energy market. To unlock the full market potential for American clean technology innovation, appropriators must also remove the rider barring funding for implementation of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) guidelines that limit U.S. government support for highly polluting projects, such as coal plants, built overseas (Sec. 7062 (4)).

Other major economies contribute a greater share to the GCF than America and are reaping the returns. Japan, Germany, and the United Kingdom have each contributed more than the U.S. to the GCF despite the U.S. pledging a greater amount. And China has pledged $3.1 billion to assist developing countries in addressing climate change. However, the U.S. has only contributed one-third of its GCF commitment ($1 billion of a $3 billion pledge) which only serves to undermine our credibility and leadership on the world’s stage, and allow our partners and competitors to sprint ahead in the global clean energy race. Ensuring America honors its commitment to the GCF is critical to holding other major emitters, such as China and India, accountable for doing their part to tackle climate change and transition to clean energy.

And finally, sustainable landscapes, renewable energy, adaptation, and biodiversity programs are all smart investments to strengthen U.S. alliances and prevent instability overseas by helping developing countries become more resilient. Sustainable landscapes programs incentivize developing countries to curb deforestation while addressing rural poverty and improving the way lands are managed and harvested — leveraging U.S. funding for up to 39 times more funding from other donors. Renewable energy programs support cleaner air and increase energy access and security in developing countries, fulfilling Congress’ vision of helping lift people out of poverty through access to reliable electricity by leveraging private sector and non-governmental investment. Adaptation programs reduce the impact of severe weather and natural disasters on critical infrastructure, agricultural productivity, and public health, and is vastly cheaper than responding to disasters once they have occurred.  And finally, biodiversity programs support the functioning of healthy ecosystems on which human livelihoods, security, and health depend, for example by bolstering food security in order to minimize conflict and provide opportunities for economic growth.

Congressional appropriators have a bipartisan record of supporting these vital international environmental and clean energy programs as vehicles to advance American interests. NRDC urges appropriators to continue this bipartisan tradition, and step up the level of commitment to these investments in Fiscal Year 2020 to ensure that America takes bold steps to regain the mantle of global leadership on the central environmental challenges of our time.

About the Authors

Brendan Guy

Manager, International Policy, International program

Dan West

Legislative Advocate, Government Affairs

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