March 15, 2016

State Dept's $500 Million Transfer to the U.N.

  • Last week, the Obama administration transferred $500 million in U.S. funds to the United Nations’ Green Climate Fund.

  • Congress never authorized the Green Climate Fund or any appropriations to it.

  • The State Department must fully account for how it decided to give taxpayer dollars to a U.N. fund that Congress never authorized.

Last week, the Obama administration transferred $500 million in U.S. funds to the United Nations’ Green Climate Fund. Other countries will welcome the administration’s handover of American tax dollars to subsidize their own economies. The American people will reject it as another executive power grab that ignores their judgment and misuses their hard-earned money. 


On March 8, Deputy Secretary of State Heather Higginbottom testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that Congress never authorized the Green Climate Fund.

Congress did not authorize Green Climate Fund, State Department testified 

Climate Fund state department transcript

Before Higginbottom admitted this simple fact, she struggled to provide specific authority for her department’s $500 million contribution to the fund.

  • She said that the president’s proposed fiscal year 2016 budget included money for the fund. The Senate rejected this budget 98 to 1, and it was never enacted into law.
  • She said that the fiscal year 2016 omnibus appropriations bill included money for the fund. This bill was enacted into law, but it appropriated no money for the fund.
  • She said that State Department lawyers determined that it was authorized to reprogram money from other programs to the fund. This appears to contradict the decision by Congress to exclude the funds from the enacted fiscal year 2016 omnibus bill. Congress specifically excluded a provision that would have authorized reprogramming money from other accounts to the fund.


The State Department raided $500 million from the Economic Support Fund to pay for its Green Climate Fund contribution. This was more than 26 percent of the total $1.9 billion that Congress appropriated for the Economic Support Fund to “promote economic or political stability” in countries with “special economic, political, and security conditions.” Congress designated this money to do things such as to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon; to assist Ukraine with counteracting Russian aggression; to assist Egypt with educational, democratic, and economic reforms; to assist Africa with its public health crises; to combat human trafficking; to help exhume mass graves and identify victims of war crimes and crimes against humanity; and to empower women in conflict prevention, peace building, and reconstruction efforts.

The State Department either stole $500 million from these priorities, or it did not need the $500 million in the first place. The deputy secretary insisted in her March 8 testimony that the Economic Support Fund was not underfunded or overfunded. Instead, she argued that the transfer of $500 million to the Green Climate Fund was one of many budget “tradeoffs” the State Department regularly makes. “It raises serious concerns then that the State Department has at least $500 million sitting around in funding that’s no longer needed for the purposes for which it was approved,” Senator Barrasso noted during the hearing. “Whether you have the legal authority or not to move it, you have chosen to move $500 million from programs for which it was approved.”

The American people, through their representatives in Congress, have the power to authorize or reject the Green Climate Fund and to approve or disapprove any contribution of tax dollars to it. Senator Gardner explained: “We have a Constitution that makes it very clear that appropriations are carried out by the legislative branch, and when you sit here before the American people and say that the Green Climate Fund was never approved by Congress, and yet $500 million just went to it, I don’t think that lawyers can replace the Constitution. Lawyers don’t replace the constitutional requirements that Congress approve these funds and this appropriation.”


Congress was right to reject the Green Climate Fund and to disapprove a $500 million contribution to it. Officially, the Green Climate Fund will finance “low-emission and climate-resilient projects and programmes in developing countries.” Realistically, it will operate as a slush fund for the U.N. and government officials in Asia, Africa, and elsewhere.

According to one analysis last year, the top climate finance recipients of 2014 have serious problems with corruption. India, Indonesia, Brazil, Mexico, Vietnam, Egypt, South Korea, Kenya, Thailand, and the Philippines each score as “corrupt” to “highly corrupt” on Transparency International’s 2015 Corruption Perceptions Index. The 10 riskiest countries for money laundering and terrorist financing, according to the International Centre for Asset Recovery’s 2015 Basel AML Index, have said they could need more than $900 billion in climate financing by 2030. Even the Green Climate Fund board includes several government officials from some of the riskiest countries for money laundering and terrorist financing.

The State Department’s $500 million payment is the first tranche in the Obama administration’s multi-year commitment to transfer $3 billion in American wealth to other nations. That figure will grow if developing countries have their way. They are demanding trillions of dollars in return for participating in last December’s climate agreement in Paris. Seventy-three developing countries said they would need approximately $341 billion per year from the U.S. and other developed countries. Iran wanted $840 billion by 2030 – and warned that its greenhouse gas pledge was entirely dependent on the removal of all sanctions. These demands will only grow when another 90 developing countries announce how much money they expect to get.


Senators Barrasso and Gardner have suggested that the State Department’s decision to unilaterally transfer $500 million of U.S. tax dollars to a U.N. slush fund that the American people never authorized and for which money was never appropriated breaks down trust between the executive branch and the legislative branch – as well as between Washington and the American people. The evasive testimony by the deputy secretary of state on March 8 served only to underscore concerns that the State Department has been less than forthcoming.

The deputy secretary promised to provide a full accounting for how the department arrived at its decision. With a national debt approaching $20 trillion, and uncertainty about how climate funds will be used, the administration will have to provide better answers. 

Issue Tag: Energy