Aid cuts pose stumbling block to Cop26 negotiations, MPs hear

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The Government’s decision to cut the overseas aid budget has undermined its chances of success at Cop26, development experts have claimed.

The UK reduced overseas aid spending from 0.7% of GDP to 0.5% this year for the first time since 2013, with the Government blaming the impact of the pandemic on public finances.

But the House of Commons International Development Committee heard today that the decision would make it difficult to persuade developing countries to sign up to ambitious climate change commitments.

Mark Miller, from the Overseas Development Institute, said: “It’s the ability to demonstrate global leadership. At this time in particular, during this once-in-a-generation development crisis, the UK has not been able to take leading commitments.”

Cop26 – Glasgow
India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi at Cop26 (Phil Noble/PA)

He added that although the UK had announced an extra £1 billion of spending on climate finance, he did not think countries were “necessarily welcoming that with open arms” due to the overall cuts in aid.

Mr Miller said: “Let’s take the example of Bangladesh, a country that’s very exposed to climate change risks. The bilateral aid budget fell by almost 60%, and so I don’t think they will be cheering the climate finance target. So I think it’s that leadership that’s really suffered.”

Romilly Greenhill, director of the ONE Campaign, said: “When we talk to government officials and ministers from across Africa particularly, people are cautious about what they can say publicly but we know it is a real issue of concern for those governments.

“In the run-up to the Cop as well, not only was money being cut but countries were then being asked by the UK to make these really ambitious climate change commitments in a context also where the UK is not sharing vaccines, and I think a lot of them were saying, hang on, why should we be making these ambitious commitments at your summit when we’re seeing these huge aid cuts and we’re not getting any vaccines?”

However, Downing Street said talks at Cop26 in Glasgow have gained “significant momentum”, with India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi promising to generate half his country’s energy from renewable sources by 2030 and more than 100 world leaders committing to reverse deforestation by 2030.

Hailing the deal on deforestation, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “Let’s end this great chainsaw massacre by making conservation do what we know it can do, and that is deliver long-term sustainable jobs and growth as well.”

The Government has also donated 30.6 million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine to Covax for distribution to developing countries and has promised to donate a total of 100 million doses by the middle of 2022.

At the Budget last week, Chancellor Rishi Sunak said the UK would return to the UN target of spending 0.7% of GDP on development aid in 2024-25 if his fiscal rules on borrowing and reducing the national debt were met.

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