Senators Target U.S. Funding for Kerry’s Prized UN Climate Change Programs

By Patrick Goodenough | April 20, 2016 | 4:19 AM EDT

Secretary of State John Kerry delivers a speech at the U.N. climate conference north of Paris, France on December 9, 2015. (AP Photo, File)

(CNSNews.com) – Taking aim at one of Secretary of State John Kerry’s most cherished causes, a group of Republican senators is warning him that the administration will violate U.S. law if it does not cut off funding to the U.N.’s climate change agency and affiliated entities in response to its recent admission of the “State of Palestine.”

In a letter to Kerry, 28 senators pointed out that the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) decision to admit the Palestinians should trigger a funding cutoff in line with a 1994 law.

That’s what the administration – reluctantly – did in 2011 when the U.N. Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization became the first U.N. agency to admit the Palestinian Authority (P.A.) as a member. The administration has been trying since then to obtain congressional waiver authority to enable it to restore funding to UNESCO, without success.

This time the target is bigger – and even closer to Kerry’s heart. Not only the UNFCCC is in the Republican senators’ crosshairs, but also the affiliated Green Climate Fund (GCF), whose aim is to help developing countries reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to various phenomena blamed on climate change.

While the administration has requested $13 million for the UNFCCC in fiscal year 2017, President Obama has pledged $3 billion to the GCF over four years. The first $500 million of that pledged amount was transferred on March 7.

Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

The senators, led by Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) said that with effect from March 17, no U.S. funds should go to the UNFCCC and related entities including the GCF.

March 17 is the date the Palestinians officially joined the UNFCCC, 90 days after depositing their instrument of accession.

The 1994 law in question is Public Law 103-236 Title IV, which prohibits “voluntary or assessed contribution to any affiliated organization of the United Nations which grants full membership as a state to any organization or group that does not have the internationally recognized attributes of statehood.”

The senators argued in their letter that the UNFCCC constitutes an “affiliated organization of the United Nations,” pointing to many links – including the fact the U.N. secretary-general appoints the head of the UNFCCC secretariat; the U.N. serves as depository for the UNFCCC and its Kyoto Protocol; and the UNFCCC secretariat’s headquarters is located in the U.N. complex in the German city of Bonn, and is listed by the U.N. as one of 18 U.N. entities there.

Next, since the “State of Palestine” is not recognized by the U.S. government and does not have the “internationally recognized attributes of statehood,” the UNFCCC’s decision to grant it full membership means that “current law prohibits distribution of U.S. taxpayer funds to the UNFCCC and its related entities,” the senators wrote.

Another evidently applicable law – not cited by the senators in their letter but invoked in the earlier funding cutoff to UNESCO – is Public Law 101-246 of 1990. It states that “[n]o funds authorized to be appropriated by this Act or any other Act shall be available for the United Nations or any specialized agency thereof which accords the Palestine Liberation Organization the same standing as member states.”

State Department spokesman John Kirby confirmed Tuesday that the department was “aware of the letter” to Kerry, but had no immediate further comment.

The letter comes just days before Kerry and P.A. chairman Mahmoud Abbas are due to join more than 160 government representatives at a signing ceremony in New York Friday for the UNFCCC’s landmark climate change agreement negotiated in Paris last year.

In that agreement, governments agreed to cut greenhouse gas emissions in a bid to prevent average temperatures from rising more than two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

Opposition to administration’s climate initiatives/support for Israel

The senators’ warning to Kerry touches on two issues dear to many congressional Republicans – support for Israel and opposition to the administration’s climate change initiatives.

Israel supporters in Congress take the view that the P.A.’s campaign to enhance its status at the U.N. is an attempt to bypass a negotiated resolution to its conflict with Israel.

“It is no secret that Abu Mazen [Abbas] has been pushing his scheme for unilateral statehood at the U.N., trying to circumvent the peace process and a direct negotiated settlement with the Israelis,” Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) said during a joint subcommittee hearing on Tuesday.

She and others view the UNESCO funding cut as an effective deterrent to other U.N. agencies that may consider granting membership to the Palestinians.

Many Republican lawmakers also oppose the administration’s domestic and international actions on climate change, including its efforts to circumvent Congress in committing the U.S. to the Paris agreement. 

When the administration transferred the first $500 million instalment of the promised $3 billion to the GCF last month, Barrasso questioned how what he called the “handout to foreign bureaucrats” could be justified in the current economic climate.

Challenging a State Department official during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, Barrasso also noted that Congress had not authorized or appropriated any funding for the GCF, and charged that the payment violates legislation which prohibits federal agencies from spending federal funds in advance or in excess of an appropriation.

Deputy Secretary for Management and Resources Heather Higginbottom said in response the department had “reviewed our authorities and made a determination that we can make this payment to the Green Climate Fund.”

Kerry, who has championed the climate change issue for decades, said after the Paris accord was struck that he did not believe Americans would ever elect as president a candidate who did not support the international climate change effort.

“I don’t think they’re going to accept as a genuine leader someone who doesn’t understand the science of climate change and isn’t willing to do something about it,” he said.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow