United States - Climate
At a glance
Explainer: Analysis is based on Rio markers for climate change mitigation and climate change adaption in the CRS. Each marker has 4 possible scores: principal, significant, screened, not targeted, and not screened. We count investments scored as principal as the narrow or lower bound estimate and funds scored as either principal or significant as the wider or upper-bound estimate.
Data presented is bilateral funding only. Refer to section (‘Multilateral climate finance’) below for discussion on the donor’s multilateral contributions to climate finance
The US does not prioritize climate change as a funding or policy priority; funding has declined considerably under the Trump administration
In 2018, the US spent a total of US$952 million on ODA for climate change mitigation and adaptation (see textbox for definition). This is an 8% decline in the compound annual growth rate since 2014. More startingly, it represents a 34% decline from the peak spending of US$1.5 billion in 2016 (the last year which the Obama administration was in power).
Despite the decline, due to its sheer volume of ODA in general, the US is the OECD DAC’s seventh-largest funder of climate ODA. However, as a share of total bilateral allocable ODA spending, the US’ contribution to climate change ODA is negligible: it spends just 3% of total bilateral allocable ODA on climate change objectives. This is a shocking figure when compared to the DAC average of 22%. It makes the US – the world’s largest donor to global development – the third-lowest DAC funder of climate change mitigation and adaptation in relative terms, ahead of only Greece and the Slovak Republic. It is worth noting that this figure has remained largely stable between 3-5% of total bilateral allocable ODA over the past five years, suggesting that climate change spending increased in 2016 due to an increased volume in ODA spending overall.
In December of 2015, all parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) reached a climate change mitigation and adaptation agreement, called The Paris Agreement, which holds signatories accountable to keeping global temperatures below a 2°C increase above pre-industrial temperatures. It is the first ever universal, legally binding global climate change agreement. The US played a key role in negotiating the agreement with President Barack Obama hailing it as “a tribute to American leadership”.
The Trump administration has largely sought to roll back the climate change policies of its predecessor. In June 2017, President Trump announced that the US – the world’s second-largest emitter of carbon dioxide (CO2) – would withdraw from the Paris Agreement, a central promise of his presidential campaign. The US is the only country to pull out of the pact, which was signed by nearly 200 countries in 2015. Legally, the Paris Agreement specifies that a country cannot initiate its withdrawal until three years after the agreement has gone into force. This means that following the initial one-year waiting period, withdrawal is scheduled to be completed in November 2020.
In contrast to President Trump’s overt support to reviving the coal industry, the current Democratic Party nominee Joe Biden has included a plan for a ‘clean energy revolution and environmental justice’ as part of his campaign platform. The plan stipulates that if elected president, Biden will set the US on track to achieve a 100% clean energy economy and net-zero emissions no later than 2050.
Climate change is a politically divisive topic in the US and the US has no overarching strategy on international climate change mitigation or adaptation. However, the US’ development implementation agency, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), has a dedicated framework for action on global climate change adaption. According to its website, it is active in 30 countries across Africa, Asia and Latin America with programs on climate change adaption, including access and use to climate and weather data and tools, resilience to climate-change related risks, and programs to promote women’s empowerment in climate change efforts.
USAID also has an Environmental and Natural Resource Management (ENRM) framework which serves as an agency-wide guiding document to ensure USAID investments in all sectors consider impacts on the environment.
Focus is on adaptation; only 2% of funding goes to projects with climate change as a principal goal
In 2018, 80% of the US’ ODA for climate change went to climate change mitigation. Meanwhile, 48% targeted adaptation. As is apparent from the relative size of these percentages, there is also significant overlap between the two markers. This is because a project can target both adaptation and mitigation. 28% of the US’ funding for actions against climate change was channeled toward projects tagged with both markers in 2018. For more information on the markers, see box.
Climate finance: funding for projects tagged in the OECD’s Creditor Reporting System (CRS) database with the Rio markers for climate change mitigation and/or climate change adaptation. Projects can be tagged with either or both markers.
Each marker has three possible scores:
- Principal, for projects in which climate change mitigation or adaptation is a fundamental and explicitly stated goal;
- Significant, for projects in which climate change mitigation or adaptation is not a key driver but still an explicitly stated goal; or
- Not targeted, meaning the project does not address climate change mitigation or adaptation.
Not all projects are screened against the Rio markers; this funding falls into the ‘not screened’ category.
With regards to the strength of its focus on climate change, the US spends 2% (US$646 million) of its funding on projects with climate change mitigation or adaptation as a principal goal. Despite being notably low against the DAC average of 7%, this figure is actually double the amount that the US spends on projects with climate change mitigation or adaptation as a significant goal – US$306 or 1% of total allocable bilateral ODA spending. This is far below the DAC average of 15%.
In terms of sectoral focus and in line with overall US development priorities, US ODA for climate change goals goes to environmental protection (US$267 million or 28%) and agriculture (US$262 million or 27%; see sector: ‘Agriculture’ for more information). A far lower share goes to energy (US$137 million, 14%), again in line with the Trump administration’s deliberate and overt pivot away from promoting the clean energy transition.
The US has historically supported key environmental multilaterals, but funding for several key initiatives has been cut
The US is a supporter of multilateral organizations working to fight climate change, although it is important to note that not all these contributions are counted as ODA.
The US is a donor to the Global Environment Facility (GEF). In fiscal year (FY) 2019 and in FY2020, the US contributed US$140 million to the GEF Trust Fund. It previously funded two of the GEF’s other funding windows – the Least Developed Countries Fund and the Special Climate Change Fund – but ceased funding for the former in 2017 and the latter in 2015. President Trump’s FY2021 budget request (see section: ‘Budget structure’ for more information) proposes to cut funding to the GEF entirely.
The US pledged US$1.0 billion to the Green Climate Fund at its replenishment conference in May 2020. It previously contributed to the fund twice in the past five years – US$521 million in 2016 and US$511 million in 2017 – but did not provide it with any funding in 2018.
In 2018, the US contributed US$10 million to the United Nations Environment Programme. This figure has remained more or less stable since 2014. Funding for the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), however, has declined from a peak of US$10 million in 2014 to just US$3 million in 2018.
The US is the largest donor the Climate Investment Funds (CIF) since its inception in 2008, contributing US$2.0 billion of total US$8.1 billion donor contributions. However, it has not contributed to CIF since the Trump administration came into power in 2016.
The FY2020 appropriations had some additional and often first-time funding decisions. Congress included US$6 million for the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)/UNFCCC, which did not receive funding in FY2019. FY2020 appropriations also included US$15 million for conservation and US$177 million and $179 million for adaptation and renewable energy programs. Congress also increased resources for biodiversity by $30 million (11%), wildlife trafficking by $10 million (11%), and sustainable landscapes by $10 million (8%) over FY2019 enacted levels, rejecting large cuts proposed by the Administration.
The State Department manages climate-change related programs while USAID leads on implementation
The State Department manages or co-manages bilateral development programs and funding to international organizations, including those related to climate change mitigation or adaptation. Meanwhile, USAID leads implementation (see section: ‘Main actors’ for more information). USAID has two policies – one related to action on global climate change adaption and another to environmental protection – which guide its programming on climate change objectives.