'Alternative' US delegation to COP23 tries to reassure climate partners

Five U.S. senators traveled to COP23 in Bonn, Germany to send a message of continued U.S. engagement in international climate change negotiations. Photo by: Michael Igoe / Devex

BONN, Germany — President Donald Trump’s announcement that he will withdraw the United States from the Paris Agreement on climate change has made America’s relationship with the developing world more difficult, according to U.S. senators who oppose Trump’s position.

A small band of U.S. politicians has formed an alternative delegation to the United Nations climate talks now entering their second week in Bonn, Germany. One of their key goals is to reassure climate-vulnerable developing countries that the U.S. has not completely turned its back on them. How wealthy, high-emitting countries will support developing nations that face intensifying impacts from climate change is a key topic in these international negotiations over how to implement the Paris Agreement. The U.S. has already pledged to provide financing, and some lawmakers are working against the odds to sustain support for those commitments.

“America’s influence in dealing with some of the really difficult challenges we have here between the developing world and the developed world is more complicated, and there’s now more space for others to fill that leadership, which is not going to be in the best interest of the global community,” said Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland in response to a question from Devex.

“We’ve used our time here to try to shore up, dealing with the commitments made in Paris, that all of us are in this together,” Cardin said. “Financing issues — we are very much aware of that,” he said.

Among the five Democratic senators who made their way to Bonn to voice support for continued U.S. engagement, Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon has led efforts to sustain U.S. international climate finance in the face of the Trump administration efforts to block U.S. spending on climate programs. Merkley pointed to U.S. funding for the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, a development finance institution that de-risks investments in the developing world. He also said that U.S. contributions to international development banks represent a continued avenue for financing climate action.

But some of the U.S.’s most important financing commitments have been put at risk.

The Obama administration pledged $3 billion over four years to the Green Climate Fund, one of the primary vehicles for delivering climate finance to mitigation and adaptation projects in developing countries. The administration was only able to deliver $1 billion of that pledge before leaving office, and Trump has proposed to eliminate any further contributions.

“We will fulfill our commitment of that $3 billion. We may not be able to fulfill that commitment on time,” said Hawaii Senator Brian Schatz.

“Where we think the great opportunity is in the short run — which is to say in the next three years — are at the private sector financing level and states and cities,” Schatz said. “The likelihood of being able to find another $2 billion in the appropriations process is lower over the next couple of appropriations cycles,” he added.

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About the author

  • Igoe michael 1

    Michael Igoe

    Michael Igoe is a Senior Reporter with Devex, based in Washington, D.C. He covers U.S. foreign aid, global health, climate change, and development finance. Prior to joining Devex, Michael researched water management and climate change adaptation in post-Soviet Central Asia, where he also wrote for EurasiaNet. Michael earned his bachelor's degree from Bowdoin College, where he majored in Russian, and his master’s degree from the University of Montana, where he studied international conservation and development.