As the United Nations climate talks continue here in Cancun, I heard some disappointing news this morning from back home in the United States. Yesterday, four extremely conservative senators sent a letter to Secretary Clinton opposing the U.S. providing “billions” of dollars to developing countries as part of an international partnership to fight and adapt to climate change.
I have a few things to say in response to this. First of all, these “billions” of dollars actually total $1.3 billion in 2010. Just to put things into context, the $1.3 billion represents a whopping 0.04 percent of the total budget of the United States. Perhaps a more interesting comparison is that the U.S. provides approximately $3.6 billion in annual subsidies to oil and coal companies.
Why do these senators want to eliminate this funding for poor developing countries? Maybe it’s because these countries don’t provide them with any campaign contributions — unlike the coal and oil companies, which since 2000 have provided these four senators with over $2.6 million in collective campaign contributions. Or maybe because these senators believe that the world’s problems are “their” problems and won’t affect “us” — and that the U.S. should just take a backseat position in world politics to China and other nations instead of being a leader.
I’d like to emphasize that this money is not being “given” away for nothing — it’s meant to help developing countries build green economies and protect their forests, which both assures markets for domestic clean technology products and reduces unfair competition for American farmers and loggers from illegal products harvested in these countries.
Essentially, this money is part of a larger foreign policy strategy that is critical for global security. This $1.3 billion also helps conserve and manage globally important ecosystem services that nature — not technology — provides people: services such as clean water, storm protection, medicines derived from nature, food security and natural sequestration of carbon emissions from the air we all breathe. We can’t manufacture or replace these services with nearly the same efficiency or effectiveness as nature can provide on its own … and that is what makes this shortsighted move by these senators penny-wise and pound-foolish, at best.
I don’t mean to pick on certain U.S. senators or dismiss the notion that the United States should address its deficit spending. However, considering that U.S. contributions to international aid make up a tiny portion of the country’s overall annual budget, maybe it would make more sense to tackle the deficit by seeking out larger pools of money — such as fossil fuel subsidies.
Manuel Oliva is the director of U.S. policy in CI’s Center for Conservation and Government. Read other blogs from and about the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Cancun.