UK aid must take 'radical action' on climate change, Parliament says

Climate change activists from the Extinction Rebellion protest at the Parliament Square in London. Photo by: REUTERS / Henry Nicholls

BARCELONA — The new U.K. secretary of state for international development has rallied behind a call from Parliament for major changes to the United Kingdom’s aid strategy to address the climate emergency.

A report released Wednesday by the International Development Committee — the cross-party parliamentary group tasked with scrutinizing aid spending — argues that unless the U.K. puts climate change at the heart of its strategy, the effect of other overseas aid spending will be nullified.

“I want to see more of the U.K. aid budget spent on climate and the environment, particularly on research and development.”

— Rory Stewart, U.K. secretary of state for international development

“The U.K. should be in the vanguard of efforts to help prepare the world’s poorest for the extreme consequences of climate change, and it must go hand-in-hand with current programmes to alleviate poverty,” Stephen Twigg, chair of the committee, said in a press release. “We need radical action that places climate change front and centre of all aid spending, policy decisions, and dedicated financing to give it teeth.”

Just a few days into the job, the U.K.’s new aid chief Rory Stewart said he took the report “very seriously” and would make climate increasingly central to DFID’s work.

“This report ... makes for sobering reading,” he said in a statement. “We need new ways of working and a new direction. We need wholesale change … Although we have done much already to tackle climate change, I feel strongly we can do more … I want to see more of the U.K. aid budget spent on climate and the environment, particularly on research and development.”

Organizations such as Bond, the network of U.K. aid groups; Oxfam; and Marie Stopes International also backed the claim that climate action is key to seeing maximum gains from aid spending. John Lotspeich, MSI’s global director of external affairs, said in an email to Devex that the British government would fail on its promise to leave no one behind if it doesn’t address climate change.

The U.K. has already committed £1.76 billion ($2.30 billion) in climate finance for 2020, but the IDC’s report argues that should be the minimum spend on climate programs each year, and that aid for fossil fuel projects should cease altogether.

The report follows a month where climate change has been high on the news agenda — with peaceful protests and disruptions in London led by the Extinction Rebellion movement — and natural disasters that have rocked parts of Africa and Southeast Asia.

“There remains a brutal disconnect between the resources developing countries have to adapt and the increasing risks they face,” said Jon Date, head of government relations at Oxfam, in an email. “Overseas aid and international climate finance are two separate commitments, so the U.K. should now look into new sources of income for climate finance to prevent critical funds for schools and hospitals in poorer countries being depleted.”

Bond agreed that poverty reduction and other global challenges will not be adequately addressed without dedicated climate finance.

“Poverty reduction and the [Sustainable Development Goals] will not be achieved without stepping up dedicated climate finance oriented in the most vulnerable countries, as well as fundamentally altering how we do development in order to address the triple crisis of poverty, environmental degradation, and climate change,” said Claire Godfrey, head of policy and campaigns at Bond.

Other recommendations from the report include ensuring consistency across government so that all aid spending is aligned in its approach to climate change, reaching net zero emissions, and making climate change a key consideration in all spending decisions.

Between 2010-2016, UK Export Finance — the U.K.’s export credit agency — supported £4.8 billion worth of fossil fuel projects, about the same amount the government spent on the International Climate Fund between 2011-17. In November 2018, the campaign group Platform found that the cross-government Prosperity Fund, which includes aid money, had supported a number of oil and gas projects in China, India, Brazil, Mexico, and the Philippines.

“Climate change needs to be mainstreamed throughout all government decision-making to avoid wasted investments and to ensure that we are pursuing efforts to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees [Celsius] — both at home and abroad,” Godfrey said.

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    Rebecca Root

    Rebecca Root is an Editorial Associate and Reporter at Devex. She has a background in journalism and communications, and has written for a variety of publications while living and working in New York and London. She is now based in Barcelona and produces multimedia editorial content for digital content series and media partnerships.