UK accused of double counting £500m of aid to meet climate pledge

<span>A displaced Yemeni child carries water containers donated by Unicef at a camp on the outskirts of Sana'a last year.</span><span>Photograph: Yahya Arhab/EPA</span>
A displaced Yemeni child carries water containers donated by Unicef at a camp on the outskirts of Sana'a last year.Photograph: Yahya Arhab/EPA

The UK government has been accused of double counting £500m of overseas aid as climate finance in an attempt to meet its commitments under the Paris agreement .

Money for humanitarian work in Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia is now being classified as climate finance, according to documents released under a freedom of information request by the website Carbon Brief.

Last year, the Guardian reported that a pledge to spend £11.6bn on international climate finance between 2021-22 and 2025-26 was slipping out of reach because of chronic underspending and the oversea aid budget being reduced from 0.7% to 0.5% of national income.

Some of the aid being counted as climate finance have no clear climate link, as it involves mainly the provision of food and basic necessities. The previous climate projects funded under the £11.6bn pledge, in contrast, include renewable energy, low-pollution transport and forest preservation in sensitive areas around the world.

Gideon Rabinowitz, the director of policy and advocacy at the international development network Bond, told Carbon Brief: “The change of definition means they will be able to reach the target by spending less money than they would have done otherwise through double counting development and climate finance.”

This redefinition of funding is expected to add £1.72bn to the total amount of the UK government says it spends on climate aid. Part of the reclassification includes an assumption that 35% of the money it gives to the World Bank counts as international climate funding. This does not mean any new money will be committed towards climate projects as the government has already pledged this funding.

Humanitarian aid for countries described as climate vulnerable will also be reclassified as climate finance. Thirty per cent of the spend towards basic humanitarian provisions in Yemen, Afghanistan, Somalia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda, Zimbabwe and Sudan will now automatically count as climate finance. This is funding that has already been committed and not new money for climate projects.

Euan Ritchie, a senior policy adviser at the thinktank Development Initiatives, said: “Just because humanitarian aid is going to a country that is vulnerable to climate change doesn’t mean it addresses that vulnerability. And these projects have already been screened for their climate focus.”

Civil servants warned ministers last year that in order to meet the £11.6bn target, the government may have to count other already-committed amounts as climate payments, but said: “This would be seen as the UK ‘moving the goalposts’ and would be seen as a backwards step, reducing UK standing and influence in climate negotiations.”

The former Foreign Office minister Zac Goldsmith said at the time that this reclassification would “shred” the UK’s international reputation, shortly after resigning over what he called Rishi Sunak’s “apathy” towards climate action.

The government has previously described the £11.6bn goal as “dedicated ring-fenced funding that is distinguishable from non-climate” aid.

Developing countries, which have been disproportionately affected by climate breakdown, through increase flooding and droughts, have repeatedly expressed anger that the global north has given little support to them despite the historical imbalance in carbon emissions. In order to convince previously low-emitting countries to transition to a cleaner future, wealthier, more historically polluting nations have been pressed to give financial support.

The Foreign Office has been contacted for comment.