TORONTO — In July 2015, a bipartisan group of United States senators ensured the future of a billion dollars of U.S. support for the United Nations’ Green Climate Fund. They did so by championing an amendment in the appropriations sub-committee responsible for international climate finance that would eventually pave the way for President Barack Obama to draw two $500 million installments from the State Department to pay the GCF. But, if the climate-conscious lawmakers were the driver of this critical moment, the renewable energy that powered their cause might be attributed to a higher power.
Behind the scenes, faith-based groups spent the better part of the year informing senators — particularly Republicans such as Susan Collins, of Maine, and Mark Kirk, then, of Illinois — of the importance of supporting the fund. Now, with the remaining $2 billion that Obama previously committed to the GCF severely under threat by the Trump administration, as are climate change issues as a whole, the faith community is gearing up for a long-term fight.
“It will be a matter of encouraging and working with this current administration, but at the same time standing up for what’s right because we have to protect our children’s health and lives around the world,” said Mitch Hescox, president and chief executive officer of the Evangelical Environmental Network.
From the One Planet Summit, held last month in Paris, to the Global Climate Action Summit that will take place next September in California, finance is one of the key issues perpetually being debated within the climate change community. And with good reason. Climate change finance, in particular funding for the GCF, is critical to achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement on climate change. Developing countries can’t meet their emission reduction targets, as part of the agreement’s overall aim in maintaining temperature increase below 2 degrees Celsius, without outside financial and technological support from developed countries.
With the Donald Trump administration unlikely to provide funding for the GCF and the ultraconservative billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch funding organizations that are attacking the science of climate change altogether, American state and businesses leaders are increasingly conscious of the need to provide additional support for climate action in the developing world. But, long before they stepped into the fray, the faith community — with the support of civil society organizations — was a key leader of the cause.
The question of where to draw the blurry line on what projects or aspects of projects are climate related — and thus eligible for climate funding — and which are classed solely as “development” has periodically stumped even the most experienced climate finance experts.
“There’s no doubt that the faith community’s support for the GCF was a critical element of continuing to ensure that there was bipartisan support for the fund,” said Heather Coleman, climate and energy director at Oxfam America.
Can they do it again?
Two years ago, a distant dispute brought ecological advocate Chloe Schwabe’s attention to the GCF. She had just started getting involved with climate change issues when she found out about a controversial hydroelectric dam project in Guatemala. Still in its preconstruction phase, the project was already plagued with problems, including the forced displacement of indigenous families. When Schwabe learned that the GCF uses the same environmental and social safeguards as the dam project, she knew that she had to take action.
“Not just around getting funding in Congress, but also to make the fund better,” said Schwabe who’s now the director of the faith-economy-ecology project at the Catholic organization, Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns.