Trump Readies, Then Delays Orders Targeting Climate Fund, Treaties

Turn to the nation's most objective and informative daily environmental news resource to learn how the United States and key players around the world are responding to the environmental...

By Dean Scott

The Trump administration is readying executive orders—which could be signed in the next day or so—to limit or even end U.S. support for United Nations climate funding and perhaps lay the groundwork for eventual retreat from international climate agreements.

The intent of two draft executive orders, which had not been signed as of late Jan. 26, is consistent with President Donald Trump’s vows to cut what historically has been significant U.S. support for the UN. One early casualty of the order, if implemented: any further U.S. payments to the UN’s Green Climate Fund. The Obama administration pledged $3 billion over four years to aid developing nations’ climate efforts, but ultimately provided just $1 billion before Trump took office.

The first draft order, “Auditing and Reducing U.S. Funding of International Organizations,” would create a committee to “help identify and eliminate wasteful and counterproductive” support for the UN; it is to report its findings no later than Jan. 1, 2018. The panel is to consider a 40 percent cut in U.S. support for the UN and other international entities, according to a draft version that Bloomberg BNA obtained.

The draft order also resurrects an issue Senate Republicans raised nearly a year ago: whether the U.S. can legally remain a party to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, the parent treaty to the 2015 Paris climate pact, given that Palestine has since joined the convention.

The White House had planned signings of several orders Jan. 26—although it is unclear whether they were, in fact, the two affecting UN funding and treaties. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer told reporters Jan. 26 that several orders could be released during the next day or two, but provided few details on their contents.

Palestine Connection

Several sources familiar with the draft order on international funding, along with a second one targeting U.S. participation in international treaties, stressed that both remain under review and could undergo substantial revisions. But those familiar with the second order said it appears to focus more on agreements that social conservatives deem as over-reaching and less on UN climate agreements.

The Republican argument linking Palestine and international climate commitments is basically that a 1994 law bars U.S. funding of “affiliated” organizations of the UN that grant membership to parties such as Palestine, which is not universally recognized as a state.

Palestine formally submitted its instrument to join the UN climate convention just days after nearly 200 nations reached a global climate pact in December 2015. Twenty-eight Republicans warned then-Secretary of State John Kerry in an April 18, 2016, letter that the U.S. was effectively barred from supporting the UN framework convention once Palestine joined the convention.

The committee to be launched under the draft executive order on “Auditing and Reducing U.S. Funding of International Organizations” is to consider ways to “cease U.S. funding” for any UN affiliate or organization that grants membership to the Palestinian Authority.

Republicans on the April 2016 letter raising the connection between Palestine and the fate of climate agreements included three in Senate Republican leadership: Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), now chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee; Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Republican Conference Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.). In their view, the Palestine accession to the climate treaty meant the U.S. could no longer fund the Green Climate Fund or the UNFCCC Secretariat, which administers the framework convention.

The Obama administration challenged that interpretation, pointing out that the UNFCCC is not an UN-affiliated agency or organization that could be affected by admitting Palestine but rather a treaty, which put it off limits to the 1994 congressional funding restriction.

Decision Climate Deals

But neither draft executive order reveals Trump’s broader strategy for making good on his campaign vow to “cancel” the Paris climate pact or even withdraw the U.S. from the framework convention parent treaty. For that, said one source advising the administration, Trump would have to send a document notifying the UN secretary of U.S. withdrawal from either agreement.

Trump has since said he will carefully review the climate agreement.

Environmental groups and other supporters of the Paris climate deal, including Alden Meyer of the Union of Concerned Scientists, are optimistic that Trump could hold off on any decision for now on climate agreements pending meetings with foreign leaders in the months ahead. “I just don’t know if they are looking at this calculus now” to decide Paris deal’s fate, said Meyer, UCS’s director of strategy and policy.

“But if you look at other signals, to me there’s some indication that the momentum to end [the] Paris deal has slowed. I just don’t think these executive orders looking at long-term funding review are necessarily a stalking horse for” withdrawing the U.S. from climate agreements, he said.

The future of U.S. international climate funding in the end also will be determined by Trump’s inaugural budget and by congressional appropriators. But with Republicans controlling both the House and Senate, there is little optimism for continued support for the Green Climate Fund.

The U.S. in 2014 pledged $3 billion over four years to the Green Climate Fund to push developing nations to the negotiating table toward a global climate deal. Obama ultimately made a total of $1 billion in U.S. payments to the fund, including a $500 million payment just days before he left office Jan. 20, an action that further angered congressional Republicans.

To contact the reporter on this story: Dean Scott in Washington, D.C., at DScott@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com

Copyright © 2017 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Request Environment & Energy Report