Biden Fails to Assist Poorer Countries in Reducing Emissions

As the American Jobs Act moves closer to authorizing billions in additional funding for climate resilience projects, many environmentalists wonder: What about nations that can't afford such investments?

If elected president, advocates hoped that Joe Biden, who ran on a platform of global climate leadership and environmental justice, would prioritize international climate financing, or the transfer of money to low-income nations so they can successfully decrease their own carbon emissions. Rich countries, such as the United States, have historically emitted the most carbon dioxide into the atmosphere; however, poorer countries, which currently account for more than 60% of global carbon dioxide emissions, are expected to contribute nearly 90% of emissions growth over the next two decades. Climate finance gives Biden the opportunity to lead worldwide while also restoring faith in the United States, which has suffered greatly under President Donald Trump.

Biden would make his contribution largely through the United Nations' Green Climate Fund, which was created in 2009 to fund mitigation and adaptation programs in low-income nations. 43 nations promised $10.3 billion for similar initiatives in 2014, with the United States committing $3 billion over four years.

Despite the fact that the Obama administration was able to get $1 billion out the door, Trump withdrew US funding for the initiative. When Biden was elected, the expectation was that he would not only repay the United States' outstanding debt but also join other wealthy nations in making new, more ambitious commitments. But nothing has happened thus far.

That isn't due to a lack of effort. A group of leading environmental, faith, and development organizations wrote to the new Biden administration in February, urging an immediate $8 billion commitment to the Green Climate Fund, both to pay the United States' outstanding $2 billion from its 2014 pledge and to commit an additional $6 billion.

This demand was reiterated in a letter signed by 40 members of Congress, led by Rep. Adriano Espaillat, D-New York, in late March. Members recommended a fresh $6 billion commitment, and especially asked for $4 billion in the president's next fiscal year 2022 budget to pay off the remaining $2 billion promised, as did nongovernmental groups in February. The letter adds, "We think this financing is vital to our shared aim of reducing and adapting to climate change." “Such an investment will also have the pleasant consequence of re-establishing the United States as a worldwide leader.”

Yet, in April, the Biden administration proposed a budget that included just $1.25 billion for the Green Climate Fund, barely enough to meet the US's 2014 promise of $2 billion. Moreover, despite referencing 20 other federal departments in its recently released guidance for its Justice40 Initiative — executive actions “to tackle the climate crisis at home and abroad,” the White House does not even mention the US Agency for International Development, the agency tasked with international climate resilience and risk management work.

“The United States has a propensity to boast leadership, but if you look at what they're really putting on the table, the United States hasn't really been a leader on climate,” said Niranjali Amerasinghe, executive director of ActionAid USA.