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Rep. Espaillat's international climate funding bill is a major step forward

Congressman Adriano Espaillat (NY-13) has introduced The Green Climate Fund Authorization Act of 2019, which commits the United State to fulfill its responsibility to fund international climate adaptation and mitigation through the United Nations. That in itself is a big deal, since Donald Trump has proven just how useless our "commitments" to the fund are when they aren't backed by Congress. But this line, buried in the bill, is even bigger:
(a) IN GENERAL.—There are authorized to be appropriated for fiscal year 2020 and each fiscal year thereafter 11 such sums as may be necessary for contributions to the Green Climate Fund -
(1) to achieve the greenhouse gas emissions reductions required to keep the planet at or below 1.5 degrees Celsius of global warming, consistent with 16 the goals of the Paris Agreement; and
(2) to exceed the commitment by developed 18 countries to jointly mobilize, starting in 2020, $100,000,000,000 for climate financing each year...
Remarkably, this bill guarantees that the GCF will hit its funding target by putting the US on the hook for whatever sums "may be necessary" to do so. And while the second clause stipulates that this target will be at least $100b annually, the first obligates the US to pay even more if that's what is necessary "to keep our planet at or below 1.5 degrees Celsius of global warming."


I do have three basic concerns about this legislation:

  1. The second clause places the minimum investment floor to the Green Climate Fund at $100b a year. This may be what was negotiated at the United Nations, but it is much smaller than the $2 trillion a year that the policy consensus demands. We should be designing legislation around that larger figure, not around what the UN settled on after rich nations bargained down their commitments.
  2. As designed, this approach would pressure the United States to secure adequate funding from other wealthy nations by forcing us to pay for whatever they don't. This has the advantage of guaranteeing adequate funding, but that makes this bill a much heavier political lift by committing us to much more than an equitable distribution of the burden would recommend. Is that tradeoff necessary? I'm not so sure; I have trouble imagining a world where we pay for our share (about $680 billion) but where other wealthy nations refuse to do the same.
  3. Mandatory spending is, again, an enormous improvement upon the status quo, which basically leaves us to the mercy of whatever the President is willing to commit any given year. That's why Trump was able to abandon our commitment to the Green Climate Fund so easily. But this approach could still be thwarted if Congress decides to change the law; there are funding approaches that are even more reliable and less vulnerable to rollback, and lawmakers should consider these as well.
All of these concerns, of course, could be addressed by bringing this legislation further in line with the People's Policy Project proposal for a Global Green New Deal.

Imaginary funding barriers

That said, this bill takes an extraordinary step forward: it would commit us to much higher annual investments in the Green Climate Fund than any bill to date. When 3P published our proposal for a Global Green New Deal, one of the most persistent points of criticism objected to our call for $680b in annual spending. Rachel Cohen, writing for the Intercept, noted a recurring reaction:
"While $2 trillion might be in line with the scale of the climate challenge, it is so far beyond the $100 billion goal currently enshrined in the Paris Agreement and which contributor countries are struggling to meet, it’s hard to see that figure gaining much political traction," [Kevin Adams of the Stockholm Environment Institute] said. 
"What probably makes more sense to me at the moment is, let’s get the Green Climate Fund to $20 billion, or $30 billion, and build the organization up in a sustainable way," [Oscar Reyes of the Institute for Policy Studies] said. "If you throw out a lot of money, it’s really difficult to see how that’s done, though maybe that’s my lack of imagination."
In just the past few months, these funding barrier have proven utterly imaginary. Multiple presidential candidates have called for much higher commitments to the Green Climate Fund - Bernie Sanders, for one, has called for $200 billion. And now Congressman Espaillat is calling for $100 billion every year.

As it turns out, international climate finance isn't some kind of tricky intellectual puzzle. If you want to give the Global South the resources they need for climate adaptation and mitigation, you can take your case for this to the public, build popular support for it, and then pass a law.