For many across the United States, waking up to wildfire smoke from Canada this summer has become routine. Bad air quality knows no borders, and this is just one indicator of the pervasive consequences of climate change. For most of us, the smoke we’re experiencing is not life-threatening, but the climate catastrophes experienced by many developing countries are.
The U.S. economy is powered by fossil fuels, which greatly contribute to climate disasters. Despite our significantly smaller population size, the United States released 13 metric tons of pollution per capita in 2020, compared to China’s output of 7.8 metric tons. Our current and historic contributions to greenhouse gas emissions have significantly driven the warming of the earth’s atmosphere. Yet countries in the Global South are most acutely suffering the consequences of climate change, despite lacking the resources to respond.
The White House Supports Global Climate Assistance, But Congress Needs to Act
In 2021, President Joe Biden announced that the United States would allocate $11.4 billion annually for international climate assistance by 2024. To live out that promise, Congress can allocate aid in two ways. One way is through direct funding for countries in need; the other is through multinational schemes administered by organizations like the United Nations (UN).
Unfortunately, lawmakers have shown little interest in delivering on the President’s promises. Instead, House Republicans recently proposed dramatic cuts to existing climate aid programs in their recent State and Foreign Operations Appropriations bill for fiscal year 2024. The Senate bill is more climate-conscious but also overlooks key programs.
Evaluating Our Track Record
Some meaningful examples of U.S. support for global climate mitigation and adaptation exist. Between 2012 and 2021, USAID mobilized $31 million to improve Vietnam’s resilience in the forestry and agriculture sectors. This investment helped promote the conservation of the country’s forests—a critical step in combating climate change—while supporting local communities as the nation transitions to a low-carbon economy. This assistance helped incentivize the sustainable development of the region.
Similarly, the UN disperses assistance through initiatives like the Green Climate Fund (GCF). In 2016, the GCF co-financed a $38.9 million adaptation project in the tiny Pacific Island state of Tuvalu. This funding improved the resilience of public buildings and sustained early action to combat extreme weather events.
Tuvalu, which sits right at sea level, is an example of a place whose very existence is threatened by rising sea levels. The risk to its land and heritage is so immediate that the Tuvaluan government is creating “digital clones” of its islands. Efforts to move the country into a metaverse could be unnecessary with increased aid. Yet, the United States is failing to do its part, having allocated just $2 billion to the GCF, $1 billion short of President Barack Obama’s pledge.
Foreign Aid is a Moral and Strategic Way to Tackle the Climate Crisis
For much of its history, the U.S. government has measured the nation’s progress by its growth. That growth came at a cost that many worldwide are now paying.
It’s time for our leaders to change course. Climate assistance is urgently needed. These investments are part of our moral responsibility and serve our long-term needs. Allocating sufficient foreign adaptation and mitigation funds can support our security interests and keep us competitive against other global economies.
Success stories from Vietnam and Tuvalu are proof that international climate assistance works.The United States has a clear responsibility to do better and help nations in need. As we continue to advocate for increased aid, we should remember our shared humanity and calling to help our neighbors, no matter where they may be.