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• A researcher with the Heritage Foundation recently said, “The American people do not support Biden’s plan to waste taxpayer dollars on an international climate change slush fund.” The use of the negative term “slush fund” would bias how Americans would respond to questions about such proposals.
• When worded more neutrally, however, U.S. overseas aid to fight climate change has fared well in several recent polls.
As President Joe Biden was representing the United States at the international climate change conference in Glasgow, Scotland, a conservative scholar warned that the American public would not put up with U.S. expenditures to help other countries combat climate change.
"The Biden administration’s main goal for the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow is to reestablish American credibility on international climate change issues," said Steven Groves, a research fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation, during an Oct. 29 interview with the Daily Signal, a Heritage publication. "For better or worse, President Biden will fail to achieve that goal."
Groves went on to say that "the American people do not support Biden’s plan to waste taxpayer dollars on an international climate change slush fund. Nor will Americans accept the sky-high energy prices that Biden’s domestic energy policies have wrought. Biden should not go to Glasgow at all, since he will only end up making empty promises that he cannot keep and the American people do not support."
Groves’ critique boils down to an opinion about what people will or won’t accept, so we can’t put it on our Truth-O-Meter. Still, we wanted to analyze what we do know about public support for climate change policies when expressed in more neutral language.
When we looked at recent polls, we found polling that shows a majority of Americans would support a fund to help other countries grapple with climate change.
First, let’s run down what’s actually on the table currently. The White House pointed us to several international climate change initiatives.
In September, Biden told the U.N. General Assembly that he supports doubling the U.S. contribution to a $100 billion international climate fund for developing countries to curb climate change and cope with its effects. Biden said he would seek congressional approval to give the fund $11.4 billion per year by 2024.
"The best part is, making these ambitious investments isn't just good climate policy. It's a chance for each of our countries to invest in ourselves and our own future," Biden said in his speech at the U.N.
Separately, at the G-7 summit in June, the U.S. received backing from the other G-7 members for the "Build Back Better for the World" plan to help low- and middle-income nations improve their infrastructure, with stronger standards for environmental protection and financial transparency.
Finally, during the Glasgow conference, the White House announced it was launching the President’s Emergency Plan for Adaptation and Resilience, or PREPARE. The effort would leverage federal agencies — including the State Department, Treasury Department, Agency for International Development, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the International Development Finance Corp. — to "bring the United States’ diplomatic, development, and technical expertise to help more than half a billion people in developing countries to adapt to and manage the impacts of climate change through locally led development by 2030."
The White House said it would seek $3 billion in funding annually for PREPARE by fiscal year 2024.
Groves told PolitiFact that he did not have any specific international financing mechanism in mind when he used the term "slush fund," but was rather concerned more generally that spending so much money on overseas projects posed risks that would worry taxpayers. He characterized Americans as "generous people" and said they "may support financial aid to foreign nations to address climate change."
However, he added, "The United States should not contribute to any international climate fund over which it has little or no control. If President Biden wishes to spend American tax dollars on climate change projects in foreign countries, he should go through Congress for those funds and have any expenditures administered under U.S. auspices, including through the U.S. Agency for International Development."
Karlyn Bowman, a polling analyst with the conservative American Enterprise Institute, said she’s never seen the term "slush fund" in a poll, and she added that its use would bias responses. "Advocates on both sides of the aisle frequently use colorful or loaded terms to show support for their positions — no surprise there," she said.
But when more neutral language is used, we found a few examples of Americans being comfortable with sending money overseas to fight climate change.
One of the clearest examples is a poll released in September by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication.
It asked whether the U.S. should "provide financial aid and technical support to developing countries that agree to limit their greenhouse gas emissions." Overall, 66% of respondents supported this proposal. It received backing from 88% of Democrats, 66% of independents, and 38% of Republicans.
The survey also asked whether the U.S. should "provide financial aid and technical support to developing countries to help them prepare for the impacts of global warming." The results were similar: 61% overall support, including 84% of Democrats, 61% of independents, and 32% of Republicans.
Another poll by the Associated Press and the National Opinion Research Center, released in October, asked, "Do you support, oppose, or neither support nor oppose richer countries providing funding to poorer countries to allow them to develop their economies using clean energy sources rather than traditional sources?"
The overall level of support was lower, but that had a lot to do with the fact that 33% said they neither supported nor opposed the idea. For those who expressed a clear preference, 46% said they supported the proposal while 21% said they opposed it — a margin of more than 2-to-1.
Finally, an earlier poll from the Pew Research Center, released in April 2020, asked how important it was to cooperate with other countries on several issues, including "global climate change." It found that 82% thought it was either very important or somewhat important.
Bowman cautioned that such questions track aspirations and that respondents can be more cautious when presented with the financial impact of those decisions.
"What we know from the polls is that Americans think climate change is real, that it is serious, that it is caused in some measure by human activity, and that they think it is important to address it," she said. "What we don’t know enough about is how much Americans are willing to spend to address it here and internationally when considered against all the other things on which the country spends money."
Daily Signal, "3 Things to Know About Biden’s Trip to ‘Fantasy’ COP26 Climate Summit," Oct. 29, 2021
White House, "Remarks by President Biden Before the 76th Session of the United Nations General Assembly," Sept. 21, 2021
White House, "President Biden’s Whole-of-Government Effort to Tackle the Climate Crisis," accessed Nov. 5, 2021
White House, fact sheet on PREPARE, accessed Nov. 5, 2021
Yale Program on Climate Change Communication and George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication, survey, September 2021
Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, survey, October 2021
Pew Research Center, survey, April 2020,
Reuters, "Biden pledges to double U.S. climate change aid; some activists unimpressed," Sept. 21, 2021
PolitiFact, "Ask PolitiFact: What is China's Belt and Road Initiative, and why is Joe Biden concerned?" June 16, 2021
Email interview with Karlyn Bowman, polling analyst with the American Enterprise Institute, Nov. 2, 2021
Email interview with Steven Groves, research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, Nov. 2, 2021