Boris Johnson’s promise of more than £11bn to help poorer countries adapt to the climate emergency will be paid for by even deeper cuts to the UK’s other overseas aid projects, The Independent has learned.
Failure to provide fresh funding leaves the prime minister’s claim to be leading the world on the environment in tatters ahead of hosting the Cop26 summit in the autumn, campaigners say.
The government has been criticised on all sides for its existing £4bn-a-year aid cuts, with a project in Malawi to help farmers adapt to climate change among the latest to have fallen victim. At least three similar schemes are expected to follow.
The World Health Organisation has already warned that “hundreds of thousands of people” will die from the cuts, amid fury that MPs have been denied the vote on the move they were promised.
In Cornwall last month, the prime minister hailed his £11.6bn climate commitment to the developing world – spread over 5 years – and vowed to pester other countries to stump up cash before Cop26 in Glasgow.
“We, as the rich nations of the Earth, we need to build our credibility with those countries in asking them to make cuts in CO2,” he said- in relation to contributions to a hoped-for $100bn UN annual fund.
“Because this country, which started the Industrial Revolution, is responsible for a huge budget of carbon that’s already in the atmosphere.”
But the government has now quietly conceded that the entire £11.6bn – worth around £2.3bn each year, between 2021 and 2026 – will come from official development assistance (ODA), the aid budget.
Mr Johnson is already under fire for breaking a promise to give MPs a vote on the decision to slash aid spending from 0.7 to 0.5 per cent of national output, swiping £4bn a year from the pot.
Catherine Pettengell, UK director of the Climate Action Network, said the promise of “new and additional” resources for the flagship UN Climate Adaptation Fund was being broken.
“Reducing the aid budget, while at the same time drawing on it as the only source of climate finance, will inevitably harm the most vulnerable in society,” she said.
Tracy Carty, Oxfam’s senior climate adviser, said: “We welcome the UK’s commitment to climate finance, but when it’s coming from a declining aid budget it’s a bit like your bailiff leaving a bunch of flowers.”
And Preet Gill, the shadow international development secretary, condemned “empty greenwashing” that would hit “the world’s most vulnerable people and weaken their ability to take action on the climate crisis”.
The revelation that no new money will be made available comes after the government’s independent climate advisers warned the aid cuts are already “undermining” the climate finance pledge.
The Prosper (Promoting Sustainable Partnerships for Empowered Resilience) project in Malawi is working with farmers to “reduce the impact of climate shocks” through new agricultural practices, better irrigation and early warning systems.
But the £25m scheme, funded from the government’s Building Resilience and Adapting to Climate Change (BRACC) programme, has now been axed, despite being given an A** rating – forcing staff redundancies and the closure of four district offices.
“The cut has dealt a severe blow to our efforts to build the resilience of extremely poor communities in Malawi to adapt and cope with climate shocks such as droughts,” said Danny Harvey, executive director of the aid agency Concern Worldwide.
The world’s richest countries first committed to spending $100bn a year on a Climate Adaptation Fund to help poor nations adapt to global heating way back in 2009 – but only $79bn has been raised.
The UK is seen as being “somewhere in the middle” of the G7, behind France, Germany, Japan and Canada, but ahead of the US and Italy.
The fund recognises the “guilt” of industrialised nations – for centuries of carbon emissions – and is meant to help developing countries protect themselves against the devastating effects of global heating, while cutting their own emissions.
At Cancun in 2010, the Cop16 summit, rich countries promised funding would be “new and additional”, noting the “urgent and immediate needs of developing countries that are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change”.
But the government has now revealed that the entire £11.6bn counts as ODA – meaning no extra funding will be brought forward.
Furthermore, only £1.4bn will be allocated to climate finance in 2021-22, raising fears that most of the spending will be left to the end of the five-year period.
But, in Cornwall, Mr Johnson suggested the UK had gone as far as it intends to, saying: “We are now asking other countries to make a change.
“We are going to be on everybody’s case between now and the summer, and on into the autumn, to get those commitments and to make sure that we get the world into the right place for Cop.”
The Foreign Office defended the arrangement on the grounds that the “international climate finance commitments are new and additional to any previous commitments” to the UN fund.
“While the seismic impact of the pandemic on the UK economy has forced us to take tough but necessary decisions, the UK aid budget this year will still be more than £10bn, making us one of the biggest donors in the G7,” a spokesperson said.