(CNSNews.com) – President Obama had an opportunity Sunday to respond to Republican senators’ threat to withhold the $3 billion he has pledged for the U.N. “Green Climate Fund” (GCF) unless any new climate agreement is presented to the Senate for ratification – but chose not to.
Instead, Obama said simply that critics of his climate agenda lost a major argument when China announced it will join international efforts to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases.
Speaking in Kuala Lumpur, he also defended climate financing, saying that helping poor countries to adapt to green technologies without having their development efforts impaired was a “smart investment for us to make.”
With the opening of the U.N. climate conference in Paris just days away, a group of 37 GOP senators warned Obama in a letter Thursday that they will not allow taxpayer money to go to the GCF “until the forthcoming international climate agreement is submitted to the Senate for its constitutional advice and consent.”
Republican opposition to the administration’s climate change program appears to be driving the administration’s resistance to calls from Europe and elsewhere for the agreement coming out of Paris to be a treaty – and therefore requiring Senate ratification by a two-thirds vote.
The signatories pointed out that Congress had never authorized funding for the GCF, and that Obama’s $3 billion pledge had been made “unilaterally.”
They asked the president to ensure that foreign counterparts in the talks were made aware that “that Congress will not be forthcoming with these funds in the future without a vote in the Senate on any final agreement as required in the U.S. Constitution.”
Speaking to reporters in the Malaysian capital on the final day of a trip to Turkey and South-East Asia, Obama was asked about the issue of raising climate finance, “given especially the Republican opposition back home.”
In his response, he said nothing about the threat to withhold funds or the question of the status of a new climate agreement, which will apply to the post-2020 period.
After outlining the thinking behind climate finance – which will be a central focus in the Paris talks – he turned briefly to criticism of his climate policies.
“Sometimes, back home, critics will argue, there’s no point in us doing something about getting our house in order when it comes to climate change because other countries won’t do anything and it will just mean that we’re in a less competitive position,” he said.
“Well, when I met with President Xi [Jinping] and China signed on to an aggressive commitment, that took a major argument away from those critics,” he said, adding that the world’s two biggest greenhouse gas emitters had now “signed on.”
China announced a year ago that it will aim for its greenhouse gas emissions to peak by 2030, if not earlier. Last September it said it would begin a national cap-and-trade program in 2017.
China has not pledged any contribution to the GCF, saying that must come from “developed nations” – as defined in previous climate change agreements. Instead Beijing says it will set up a separate fund to help developing countries combat climate change.
The GCF is the core of a 2009 agreement by Obama and other leaders to raise – from 2020 onwards – $100 billion each year from public and private sources to help developing countries deal with climate change.
As of early November, 38 countries have pledged a total of $10.2 billion for the GCF, with Obama’s pledge of $3 billion accounting for 29 percent of the total. The next biggest pledges have come from Japan ($1.5 bn), Britain ($1.2 bn) and Germany ($1.003 bn).
Broader climate finance mobilized from public and private sources so far has been estimated at $62 billion, according to a recent OECD study.
The U.N. Environmental Program has argued that $100 billion a year will not be nearly enough to help the world to adapt to global warming.