Data for Progress’s climate finance problem

Data for Progress has developed a series of scorecards that aspire to “determine the thoroughness of each candidate’s climate platform in addressing the features of the Green New Deal and allow for some basis in comparison”. They do this by rating climate platforms in 48 different categories – for example looking at their plan for “electric vehicles,” for setting an “economy-wide emissions target,” and for promoting “sustainable farming”.

But inexplicably, their scorecard does not rate candidates on a central question of any climate platform: funding levels for international climate adaptation and mitigation.

There is no way to look at these scorecards and distinguish candidates who have made dramatically different funding commitments to poor countries. And this omission doesn’t just leave people who attempt to use the scorecard uninformed – it actually risks misleading them into thinking that the candidates are comparable on this issue, when they aren’t.

DfP has offered three explanations for this omission, and they’re all baffling.

First, co-founder Sean McElwee says that international climate finance is “reflected in our rubric in both the Climate Finance and Global Green New Deal categories.” But these categories give identical perfect ratings to 11 different candidates who have all made dramatically different funding commitments. And this is almost certainly because DfP has set the bar so low: the Climate Finance category merely asks candidates to “create a Green Bank or other fund,” while the Global Green New Deal category just asks them to form “an international agreement or body”.

Second, McElwee says that for one candidate, they note his specific funding commitment in their Candidate Climate Plan Summary. But this just makes the omission in the scorecard even more puzzling: if they acknowledge funding differences in supplementary materials, why isn’t this reflected in their scoring?

Third, Data for Progress points out that their Candidate Climate Plan Summary praised one candidate’s proposal for a climate resiliency fund. If this were an international fund it would run into the same problem as their second explanation – but oddly, the fund DfP is pointing to is a domestic fund, not an international fund.

Wrangling over the criteria of a think tank’s candidate scorecard is the sort of wonky microdrama that probably doesn’t matter too much itself in the grand scheme of things. I do think, however, that this episode vividly illustrates how difficult it has been to win international climate finance a seat at the table – even among advocates for a Green New Deal. If we are going to avoid catastrophic climate change, we have to hold the powerful accountable for funding adaptation and mitigation in the Global South. And that’s just not going to happen when climate advocates treat it like some kind of niche or sub-sub-issue that doesn’t warrant specific attention.