climate aid

Opinion: The UK’s climate pledge falls short on so many levels

Photo credit: Will Bugler.
By Will Bugler
When news broke earlier this month that the UK will be spending US$ 8.8 billion to help poor nations adapt to climate change between 2015 and 2021 many in the NGO community welcomed the move. Oxfam’s climate advisor, Tim Gore, for example, called the pledge “credible”. However, when the commitment is examined more closely it becomes clear that it falls short on a number of levels.The positive aspects of the pledge can be summed up relatively quickly: firstly it is a 50% increase compared to the last 5 years and, secondly, the pledge will be ramped up year-on-year so that by 2020 the UK will be spending nearly twice the amount (US$ 2.68 billion) annually that it was in 2015. So what are the problems?
The first major issue is the pledge really only looks good compared to the UK’s own climate change spending of recent years. Rich countries have only recently woken up to their responsibility to provide climate finance and so even small increases in funding seem large when compared to the low base of past spending.
The reality of the situation is that the UK will be giving roughly half the amount that France and Germany will be giving in 2020. But even this comparison is not the most significant. The relevant measure to gauge climate spending is compared to the scale of the problem that we face. By this measure, the UK’s pledge is puny.
Rich countries have pledged to contribute US$ 100 billion per ear by 2020 to help the poorest and most vulnerable nations adapt to climate change and reduce their carbon emissions. If each country doubled their climate pledge as the UK has done, then they would barely be able to provide half that figure. That would mean that the remaining 50% of finance would have to come from private sources, with no guarantees that this will be met.
The US$ 100 billion figure itself is one that is borne out of political convenience rather than scientific reality. Half of the money will be asigned for climate change adaptation purposes, but developing nations will need far more than this to successfully cope with climate impacts that are already costing them huge sums each year.
The government will argue then that the real purpose of the US$ 100 billion target is not to meet all developing nations’ adaptation and mitigation needs, but instead it is to send a clear signal to investors that the world is going to be serious about tackling climate change, thereby diverting trillions of dollars of private finance into climate resilient infrastructure and clean energy projects. However, the UK government’s pledge fails on this count too.
Every penny of the UK’s pledge will come from within the existing overseas development assistance (ODA) budget. This means that development aid to some areas will be cut in order to fund climate projects. This, more than anything, shows that the UK government has failed to grasp climate change as a development issue.
The reality is that climate adaptation spending in developing nations is often hard to fully untangle for development spending. For example, a project to improve farming practices in rural India so that smallholder farmers are able to increase yields can be considered traditional development spending. However, if such projects also increase climate resilience by making the farmers more able to cope with drier climatic conditions then the projects can easily be re-packaged as climate adaptation spending. This overlap in climate and development spending means that only some of the UK’s pledge is likely to be additional spend on climate change resilience.
Spending that is additional (much of which is likely to be for mitigation purposes as clean energy projects are more easily demarcated from traditional development spending) will come from the ODA budget. Money that is assigned to help the poorest people on earth. It’s hard to be delighted about that.
This is important because it muddies the message to private investors. It doesn’t say, “investing in climate change is the great value and will save us all far more money than we put in”. What it says instead is: “climate change is an issue of development aid, part of our responsibility to help poor countries”. The distinction is important both for tackling climate change and for protecting the work of the wider development community.
Climate finance must be additional to and separate from existing overseas development assistance to protect the vital work of aid agencies and prevent the inevitable reclassification of programs to include climate change adaptation elements. It also must be separated in order to be able to show the true scale of climate investment and highlight its true value.
An increase in climate funding is all well and good, but it is about time governments stopped measuring their success against paltry past spending, and instead invests based on an evidence-based appraisal of what is needed to tackle the most pressing issue of our time.

Will is a climate change resilience specialist working for climate change consultants Acclimatise. Here he focusses on climate policy and communicating climate change adaptation. He writes on climate issues and curates the online web magazine  You can find him on Twitter @willbugler and on LinkedIn.
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