The election of Donald Trump as U.S. president could jeopardize a $100 billion plan launched by his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton seven years ago to help poor countries to cope with climate change, delegates at U.N. talks said Friday.
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Trump vowed during his campaign to withdraw U.S. tax dollars from U.N. global warming programs designed to help vulnerable countries shift to cleaner energy and adapt to rising seas and other impacts of climate change.
The immediate worry for delegates at U.N. climate talks in Morocco was what Trump's election means for the Obama administration's pledge of $3 billion to the Green Climate Fund, a key U.N. climate fund. Only $500 million of that pledge has been disbursed so far.
"That could be worrisome, as that money was never approved through the U.S. Congress and we now have a president who is unwilling to put that type of money out there," said Tosi Mpanu Mpanu, the chief negotiator for Congo and chairman of a group of least developed countries.
The Green Climate Fund pledges are part of a wider effort by rich countries to mobilize $100 billion annually for poor countries, announced by Clinton in 2009 when she was U.S. secretary of state. The plan calls for scaling up financing to that level by 2020. So far rich countries say they're about two-thirds there, though many developing countries challenge that assessment.
Climate activists are calling on rich countries to raise their contributions, fearing that withdrawing U.S. funds could have a domino effect.
"The U.S. is supposed to be the leader in raising this $100 billion," said Lidy Nacpil of the Philippine Movement for Climate Justice. "So if the U.S. is not going to give, why will the other countries give?"
Trump told an oil industry conference in North Dakota in May that he would "cancel" last year's landmark Paris Agreement on climate change "and stop all payments of the United States tax dollars to U.N. global warming programs."
Many negotiators in Morocco hoped Trump didn't really mean what he said.
"There will be a distinction between campaign policies and real policies," said Chinese negotiator Gu Zihua. "We should still wait and see what kind of measures the U.S. will take on climate change."
Analysts said a withdrawal of U.S. money from climate funds would have implications for other rich countries.
"If the money doesn't come through from any given country as expected, then the others have to pick up that slack," said Joe Thwaites of World Resources Institute, a Washington based environmental think tank.
Other major donor countries declined to say whether they would raise their contributions to make up for any U.S. shortfall.
"It's too early to speculate," said Elina Bardram, the European Union's chief negotiator.
However, Japan's chief negotiator, Shigeru Ushio, acknowledged that a U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Agreement would be particularly "serious" for financial plans to fight climate change, raising questions about a rich-country road map to meet the $100 billion goal by 2020.
"Perhaps the road map is not in good situation," Ushio said. "Perhaps we will lose the trust from developing countries on other issues."
Mpanu Mpanu said a U.S. withdrawal would "hinder" but not stop the effort to raise climate money for developing countries.
"Instead of us being in the elevator bringing us to the next floor, we may have to take the stairs," he said. "But we will still get there."