With the US Pulling Out of Climate Commitments, Two Key UN Bodies Face a Cash Crunch

With the US backing away — haltingly — from international climate negotiations, other countries are stepping up to fill a funding gap at a key international organization, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Donald Trump’s budget proposal last May zeroed out funding for the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the IPCC. The blow to the IPCC was a particularly large one — in 2016, the US had supplied the panel with $2 million, which covered 45 percent of its operating costs.

At an IPCC meeting in Montreal last week, governments including the EU, Japan, Australia, the UK, South Korea and Switzerland said they’d be willing to up their contributions to the organization, according to Climate Home reporter Megan DarbyOn Saturday, Canada announced that it would double its contributions to approximately $250,000 per year for at least the next five years.

The US isn’t solely to blame for the organization’s troubles. Governments had been decreasing their contributions for years, bringing the organization’s finances to what the UK-based Climate Action called “a minor crisis point.” The IPCC’s funds were set to run out at the end of this year, and, without help, the panel would rack up $25 million in debt by 2022, Climate Home reports.

The cessation of US funding is not a done deal. While the US State Department has yet to provide funds to UNFCCC or IPCC this year, President Trump’s budget proposal is not the final say on how the US government spends its money. Congress controls the “power of the purse,” and the US Senate Appropriations Committee recently approved an amendment to the 2018 State and Foreign Operations funding bill that would restore funding to both the UNFCCC and the IPCC. The amendment would appropriate $10 million for that purpose — a sum that would actually represent an increase in what the US had traditionally given, though it would not replace the 2017 funding. “It’s critical that America has a seat at the table when it comes to international climate policy,” the amendment’s sponsor, Oregon Democrat Jeff Merkley, said in a statement.

The bill passed the Republican-controlled committee with votes from all Democrats, as well as Republicans Lamar Alexander and Susan Collins.

That $10 million, however, may not make it to the UNFCCC and IPCC — there’s a good chance that the line item will be stripped as the House and Senate attempt to agree on a budget.

While other governments have expressed their willingness to help fund the IPCC, they’ve been less willing to help cover the budget hole left by the US at the UNFCCC. Though the US has announced its intention to withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement, it is not withdrawing from the UNFCCC, the underlying treaty. As part of the treaty, the US is required to help fund the organization. In other words, while IPCC funding is voluntary, UNFCCC funding is mandatory. That means Trump’s budget is violating a treaty, and other nations are reluctant to turn a blind eye to the violation and close the funding gap.

Both the UNFCCC and IPCC are critical parts of global efforts to fight climate change.

The UNFCCC is the foundation to all UN climate deals past, present and future, including the Paris Agreement. As global leaders work to strengthen the Paris Agreement, the process will happen through the UNFCCC. The IPCC provides that data that informs these negotiations — and, also, informs much of what we know about climate change. Every several years, the IPCC puts out a monstrous new report, compiled by hundreds of scientists from around the world, that looks at all the latest research on climate change and how it affects our understanding of the challenge facing humanity. These scientists volunteer their time, and the organization’s budget mostly covers logistics and travel costs.

While the Paris Agreement was a start, countries will have to do far more to address the threat of climate change. If the UNFCCC and IPCC end up short on cash, it could both weaken the UN’s ability to assess what’s happening in the climate, and weaken governments’ ability to work together to respond to it. That wold be a major setback at a time when the need for international cooperation is growing increasingly urgent.