Senator Presses Geithner on Plan to Raise $100B for Global Green Fund

By Patrick Goodenough | November 21, 2012 | 12:33 AM EST

Activists demonstrate outside U.N. climate talks in Durban, South Africa on December 1, 2011. (Photo: Luka Tomac/Friends of the Earth International)

( – Ahead of the next big international climate meeting, U.S. Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) has asked Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner how the administration proposes the raise contributions to a $100 billion climate fund to which the U.S. signed up three years ago.

In a letter to Geithner Tuesday Vitter, the incoming ranking member on the Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works, said he was “interested to ascertain how Treasury plans on finding the lion’s share of an additional $100 billion, to give away to foreign nations while we continue to run deficits in excess of $1 trillion.”

At a climate conference in Copenhagen in December 2009, the U.S. and other developed nations agreed to put together a global fund to help developing countries curb greenhouse gas emissions and cope with phenomena blamed on climate change, such as droughts and rising sea levels.

Subsequently established in 2011, the “Green Climate Fund” (GCF) is meant to raise $100 billion a year from public and private sources by 2020.

At the climate conference beginning next Monday in Doha, Qatar, developing nation representatives and environmental advocates are hoping for progress in discussions on how the money will actually be raised.

In his letter to Geithner Vitter raised concerns that the U.S. would be expected to raise the “lion’s share” of the GCF funding.

“[I]n just one week the administration will participate in talks in Doha, Qatar, centering on its 2009 promise to participate in a $100 billion annual fund from certain developed countries to others in the name of climate change,” he wrote. “This is, to say the least, highly controversial.”

Vitter asked Geithner to provide him with all proposals under discussion in the Treasury Department “for obtaining and distributing the $100 billion committed in the 2009 Copenhagen, Denmark, discussions.”

“I find it highly doubtful that there will be any significant or binding agreement in the upcoming talks at Doha; however I have noticed the new standard deployed by our friends at these talks, beginning in Copenhagen, of U.S. promises being ‘politically binding,’ ” he wrote.

“Regardless, it would be prudent for American citizens to know what the Treasury Department is working to commit the American taxpayer to in this exercise ...”

The Nov. 26–Dec. 7 meeting in Doha is known in U.N. jargon as the eighteenth conference of the parties (COP18) – the parties being the signatories to the 1992 U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change and the 1997 Kyoto Protocol.

Participants will continue the quest to find a legally-binding agreement to deal with reductions in carbon emissions beyond 2012, when the Kyoto obligations – for developed countries to cut emissions by specified amounts – expire.

They will also urge wealthier nations to start pouring money into the GCF, which is to be headquartered in South Korea.

As of October 20, countries had pledged a total of just $7.31 million to the GCF’s interim trust fund, according to a report by its supervisory board, prepared for the Doha conference.

The board’s administrative budget for the period Jul. 1–Oct. 31 2012 was $2.12 million, and it has approved a further budget of $7.48 million for the period Nov. 1, 2012–Dec. 31, 2013.

The board comprises 24 members, equally representing developing and developed countries and currently co-chaired by Australia and South Africa. The U.S. is a member, represented by Gilbert Metcalf, a deputy assistant secretary who heads the Treasury Department’s Office of Environment and Energy.

Created in 2008, the Office of Environment and Energy “develops, coordinates, and executes the Treasury Department’s role in the domestic and international environment and energy agenda of the United States,” according to the department’s website.

Louisiana Republican Sen. David Vitter is the incoming ranking member on the Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works. (Photo: Sen. Vitter website)

‘Carbon tax’

Vitter’s letter to Geithner this week dealt primarily with questions on the Treasury Department’s involvement in discussions about a possible “carbon tax” in the U.S.

Since last August the Competitive Enterprise Institute has been trying to get the department to release, under the Freedom of Information Act, more than 7,300 Office of Environment and Energy emails which contain the word “carbon” – and which CEI believes may discuss proposals for a new carbon tax.

After delays and the administration’s refusal to waive the costs of providing the documents – as is the norm with non-profit organizations’ FOIA requests – the CEI on November 13 filed suit in the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., in an attempt to force the Treasury Department to release the emails.

“Treasury has said nothing about this topic publicly, but the existence of such extensive email traffic likely reflects serious ongoing discussions between Treasury officials, outside pressure groups and other special interest groups,” CEI said in a release at the time.

In his letter to Geithner, Vitter criticized the delays in releasing the records requested by the CEI.

“I am deeply concerned that Treasury is employing such tactics, avoiding its obligations under the federal government’s most important ‘transparency’ statute in order to delay disclosure of information the public is owed,” he wrote. “The executive branch should especially make the information publicly available during the ongoing tax debate.”

In a press statement, Vitter raised concerns that a carbon tax was now being explored, followed a failure of legislation to reduce greenhouse emissions. (The House of Representatives in June 2009 narrowly passed a bill setting up a “cap-and-trade” system, but the measure died in the Senate.)

“The cap-and-trade scheme failed in 2009, and now the administration is working to enact a carbon tax, perhaps the most regressive form of tax we could implement to undermine poor and minority communities,” Vitter said.

“It’s really troubling that Treasury is attempting to hide their involvement, and they need to be called out. I want to know why they’re avoiding transparency obligations, but they also need explain their economic reasoning to the American people who will ultimately be paying much higher energy costs.”

The administration denies that it is considering instituting a carbon tax.

“We would never propose a carbon tax, and have no intention of proposing one,” White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters on November 15.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow