IUCN, other global NGOs, UN likely to see major budget cuts under Trump

The US Congress has yet to vote on a proposal by President Donald Trump to cut foreign aid funding to nations and NGOs by 32 percent or about US$19 billion.

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Final budget numbers are not just important to Americans, as they are also key to global conservation efforts, which affects aid to nations and NGOs with major implications for conservation, women’s rights and climate change adaptation. Image: Lindseymaya, CC BY-NC-ND 3.0

Donald Trump’s 2018 budget remains in limbo – the U.S. Congress has now kicked a budget vote down the road four times, moving it from September 2017, passed two missed December dates, and now to 19 January 2018. And the longer the delays, the more concern there is internationally.

That’s because those final budget numbers aren’t only important to Americans, they are also key to global conservation efforts.

In March, the Trump administration laid out proposed draconian foreign aid funding cuts, slashing spending by 32 per cent, or around $19 billion. Included were reductions in aid to a raft of nations and NGOs with major implications for conservationwomen’s rights and climate change adaptation.

One organization that relies on annual U.S. funding is the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, or IUCN, which celebrates its seventieth anniversary in 2018. The IUCN has long been at the forefront of the conservation movement and is likely best known for its global Red List, the go-to resource for the status of endangered species planet-wide.

“If there were to be significant cuts, for example, to IUCN’s core support… that would be very unfortunate,” says Inger Andersen, IUCN’s director general. Over the past four years the U.S. has contributed between 5 and 9 percent of the organization’s total framework funding, and 4 to 7 percent of its programmatic funding.

It remains unclear exactly how much U.S. funding will be granted to the IUCN, and international conservation efforts in general, in 2018. But, should those U.S. dollars be lost, the potential outcome is largely dependent on how deep and how broad they will be; what is clear is that the loss will be felt by species, ecosystems and societies, says Andersen, who recently spoke to Mongabay about the potential impacts of U.S. environmental policy on her organization and other conservation groups.

One player that could be hit by a reduction in U.S. funds is TRAFFIC, says Andersen. TRAFFIC is the international wildlife trade monitoring network, which tracks illegal trafficking in protected species and their body parts. Set up originally by the IUCN and World Wildlife Fund (WWF), it now operates as an independent entity.

How much TRAFFIC’s work will be affected will depend on the severity of funding cuts approved by Congress.

Some organizations have already seen their funding cut and are not waiting on a budget decision. Trump’s decision to quit and defund the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), for example, didn’t come as a big surprise to the organization since it supports international family planning efforts, and given that the past three U.S. Republican administrations did likewise, a spokesperson told Mongabay.

I would expect that there would come a time when the US will get up to speed with the rest of the world, because climate change is such a reality that it cannot be ignored.

Inger Andersen, director general, International Union for the Conservation of Nature

However, the verdict still hit hard. The U.S has been a major contributor to UNFPA, providing $79 million in 2015 to both the organization’s core budget and specific programs.

“The decision by the U.S. Government was based on UNFPA’s country program in China, which the U.S. did not [even] visit in 2017,” the spokesperson said. “The last time the United States government visited UNFPA’s China Programme, in June of 2015, they provided overwhelmingly positive feedback of UNFPA’s work there, and encouraged UNFPA to continue its work as a force for good.”

The defunding of the UNFPA was “clearly a big loss,” but so far there has been a good response from other donors who could make up the difference, says the spokesperson. “We are confident in our ability to continue saving lives in the short term, but worry more about the longer-term sustainability of increased funding levels from other donors.”

When Trump pulled the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Agreement, he also pulled the funding plug on the Green Climate Fund, as well as the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Since the IPCC began in 1988, the United States has provided roughly 45 per cent of its entire budget which largely goes to scientific assessments of global climate change – reports considered to be the gold standard for forecasting Earth’s global warming future.

In 2016, the U.S contributed $1.96 million, which would be wiped out under Trump’s proposed budget. But for the IPCC, at least, a funding crisis in 2018 has abated somewhat, as a number of nations have vowed to plug any gap made by the U.S pulling funding.

Two billion dollars in funding for the Green Climate Fund that Obama pledged – after paying in $1 billion in the last days of his administration – has also been zeroed out by Trump, a serious loss.

“No financial institution wants to wake up to the news that it’s lost 20 percent of its pledged funding,” says Stephen Minas, assistant professor of law at Peking University. “That’s not a good day in anybody’s book.” So far no country has stepped forward to plug the Green Climate Fund’s gap.

Conservation, climate and sustainability programs funded through USAID partnerships with developing nations – such as CambodiaZimbabwe and Kenya ­– have also been put at risk by Trump’s 2018 budget.

However, many in Congress say that the president’s proposals cut far too deeply into these U.S. State Department programs, and many, like those proposed for Kenya, may not be approved.

Nevertheless, fear and concern about future funding remains. Sophie Mbugua, a freelance journalist based in Nairobi who wrote about the impact of Trump’s cuts in Kenya for Mongabay, faced difficulties getting NGOs to talk on the record. “[A] number of organizations did not want to comment, even individuals did not want to comment… I think there was a fear that they would jeopardize their funding.”

In researching this story, the Green Climate Fund, IPCC and the United Nations Development Programme all declined to discuss U.S. funding on the record.

Some states, like the Pacific island country of Palau “has had to reconfigure its current projects supported by USAID grants, due to reprogramming of funds from the current administration,” Umiich Sengebau, Minister of the Environment for Palau, told Mongabay, adding that despite this, the two countries retain strong ties.

Still, his concern is clear: “Diminished funding to climate initiatives will inevitably impact island developing states such as Palau, as it is amongst the most vulnerable of countries to natural disasters and the impacts of climate change.”

This story was published with permission from Mongabay.com. Read the full story.

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