Smoke and Mirrors in US Climate Change Finance

To be clear, the United States faces significant challenges in the international climate change negotiations currently proceeding in Cancun.  With a lame duck congress that is not exactly rational when it comes to climate science and a populace that oft chooses to stick its head in the sand with unprecedented vigor, negotiating with the majority of nations that are much more progressive on the issue is not easy.  Add to this the large amount of emotional and ethical language from NGOs and vulnerable nations as well as the standing commitments of other developed countries, and the negotiators must walk a fine line.  However, the PR campaign and amount of misleading information from U.S. delegation has been disappointing and disheartening.

One example:  In the Copenhagen Accord drafted last year, the U.S. committed to “its fair share” of $30 Billion in new and additional fast-track finance that would be given to the most vulnerable nations between 2010 and 2012 in order to enable them to adapt quickly to the effects of climate change.  According to a presentation given in Cancun by the U.S. Deputy Special Envoy for Climate Change Jonathan Pershing, the U.S. has committed $1.7 B in fiscal year 2010 and was aiming for another $1.3 B in FY2011.

Pershing and Maura O’Neill of USAID were asked directly whether the money was new and additional, as stated in the Copenhagen Accord.  The response by Pershing was a curt decree that “new and additional” was not a defined concept, while O’Neill comforted the audience that there were “no smoke and mirrors here” and that we should “rest assured that there are significant new dollars being invested”.

If this is true, it should show in the FY2010 budget reports.  The State Department and USAID budgets mention the money explicitly, but not $1.7 Billion and not in new and additional funds.  The increases listed specifically and explicitly for climate change add up to $645 Million, split roughly evenly among Adaptation, Clean Energy, and Sustainable Landscape.  From FY2009 to FY2010, all of the relevant foreign operations programs that saw their budgets increased (while the total foreign operations budget went down by $1.5 B) together add up to $1.625 B.  This is split among Development Assistance (31%), Multilateral Economic Assistance (37%), the International Clean Tech Fund (18%), the International Strategic Climate Fund (5%) and the International Development Association (9%).  All while the Economic Support Fund, which is also part of the foreign operations budget, saw a budget decrease of $1.2 Billion.

In fairness, the statement was made many times by Pershing that Copenhagen Accord commitment is a ramping up of current programs and not the beginning of a new one, which may make the money more difficult to follow.  It is also possible that some combination of the funds listed make up the $1.7 B that is being touted.  But it seems very apparent that this money is not “new and additional” by any stretch of the normally accepted denotations.  It is also clear that with little effort, the sources of this money could be made significantly more transparent.