It is a busy week on the Hill, between the release of President Barack Obama’s budget proposal and the debate in Congress about H.R. 1, the U.S. House of Representatives’ bill to provide funding for federal programs for the rest of the current fiscal year. Current funding for the federal government runs out on March 4, so the next two weeks is shaping up as a showdown between the parties on the country’s fiscal course.
One important element that might get lost in all of the public discussion is this: H.R. 1 would slash U.S. direct foreign assistance and support for multilateral institutions. The total funding of these programs amounts to less than 1 percent of the federal budget, but they play a critical role in protecting U.S. security, contributing to a strong economy, providing stability in many countries, and preserving the U.S. as a strong global partner.
Among other cuts, the bill:
- Slashes development assistance by 30 percent from last year – These funds are the mainstay of U.S. bilateral engagement on issues of economic development. In 2010, approximately $450 million went to climate and other conservation activities, supporting work in Brazil, Indonesia, and other countries around the world.
- Eliminates U.S. contributions to the multilateral Climate Investment Funds – These funds support a variety of investments in forest conservation, clean technology, and enhancing community resilience to changes in climate. The U.S. contributed $375 million in 2010 and had proposed to contribute $635 million this year. One of the efforts these funds support is the Forest Investment Program, a major multilateral program that is providing investments to build institutional capacity and forest governance in Indonesia and other countries.
- Cuts U.S. contributions to the Global Environment Facility – The “GEF” funds activities related to climate change, biodiversity, and other global conservation objectives. It has been a particularly good investment for U.S. taxpayers because each dollar the U.S. contributes leverages four dollars in funds from other countries to complete projects that benefit U.S. and local country interests. H.R. 1 would cut U.S. contributions to the GEF to $32 million from $86.5 million last year. The U.S. has pledged annual contributions of $144 million for the next four years, so a low contribution would incur costs to U.S. prestige and credibility.
- Eliminates funding for the Tropical Forest Conservation Act – The TFCA, an innovative forest-conservation program that allows for developing-country debt to be retired in exchange for commitments to preserve tropical forests. This act, sponsored by two notable Republican leaders, then Congressman (and now Senator) Rob Portman of Ohio and Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana, was enacted in 1998, with overwhelming bipartisan support. Since that date, it has supported agreements to protect biodiverse forest ecosystems in Costa Rica, Indonesia, Botswana, the Philippines, and other countries.
Why do these cuts matter?
- Addressing deforestation in developing countries supports sustainable economic development and social and political stability, helps to reduce the incidence of illegal logging that can undercut legitimate agricultural and forest product producers in the U.S. and other countries, fosters stronger economic linkages with strategically important economies, and supports developing countries in reducing their carbon emissions.
- Investments in increasing community preparedness and resilience can be cost-effective in the long run. Climate change has the potential to dramatically reshape not just nature, but people’s communities and livelihoods. Its effects exacerbate trends such as food insecurity, water scarcity, and natural disasters, increasing instability in vulnerable regions. These wise investments protect strategic interests abroad, and save the U.S. from sizeable disaster costs down the road. A World Bank report found that up-front spending of $40 billion on disaster risk reduction measures in the 1990s would have avoided losses of $280 billion.
So just as the world is getting more unpredictable, the climate threat is becoming more apparent and natural disasters are mounting, H.R. 1 would cut Fiscal Year 2011 funding for international climate activities by roughly $400 million – and perhaps more – as compared to FY10 levels of about $1 billion.
The House will surely pass H.R. 1 tonight, and the focus will turn to the Senate. The Nature Conservancy is working with other conservation and development organizations to ensure that Senators understand the implications of these cuts. We hope many of you will contact your Senators to let them know about the importance of not losing this funding, which will benefit Americans’ human health and survival, economic development, and both “natural” and national security.
In a subsequent post, I will look at President Obama’s budget proposal for FY12.
Eric Haxthausen is U.S. climate policy director for The Nature Conservancy
Photo by: DFID – The UK Department for International Development (Muktar was an illegal logger in Indonesia until six months ago. Through the help of the World Bank and other funders, he now is a forest ranger and “passionate guardian of the forest.”)
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