On Tuesday 4th July, The Guardian reported that it had observed a leaked briefing note which set out reasons for the UK to abandon its £11.6bn climate pledge, previously agreed at Cop26. The funding, which was to have been spread between April 2021 and March 2026, would have been crucial to shift developing countries toward low carbon technology and also build up protection against the consequences of climate change. Developing countries are notably going to be the most impacted by the effects of ongoing climate change. Advocacy groups, former ministers and foreign leaders have been critical of the UK’s potential failure to live up to its climate goal.
Plans to cut the UK’s climate pledge were unveiled less than two weeks after the former Minister of State for Overseas Territories, Commonwealth, Energy, Climate and Environment, Zac Goldsmith, resigned. According to his letter of resignation found on the 30th of June, he believed that Sunak’s focus on domestic environmental issues “ground to a standstill” and that the government had “withdrawn our leadership on climate and nature”. Kate Munro, Head of Advocacy at Action Against Hunger UK, an international NGO, expressed significant concern stating that: “The reported rowing back of the UK government’s climate finance pledge threatens to destroy the fragile trust that the most climate vulnerable countries have built with the UK. Meanwhile, countries like Pakistan and the Philippines are reeling from intense and often repeated climate shocks.”
The funding […] would have been crucial to shift developing countries toward low carbon technology and also build up protection against the consequences of climate change.
Plans to drop the pledge have been justified on the premises that the UK’s commitment to doubling our international climate finance spend to £11.6bn was made in a more favourable pre-Covid economic period and that when we made the pledge in September 2019, our national budget still dictated that we would spend 0.7% of GDP on international aid. Furthermore, the ongoing war in Ukraine added a further commitment to the UK’s foreign aid budget. It was under Sunak’s watch as Chancellor in 2021 when the UK cut its foreign aid commitment from 0.7% to 0.5% of GDP, representing a cut, at the time, of around £4-5bn. In addition, by lowering the foreign aid commitment to 0.5%, Sunak broke a 2019 Conservative manifesto pledge, leading to him and the Johnson government being the target of criticism by MPs, NGOs and by their own party, including former Prime Minister and Home Secretary, Theresa May. With an already stretched foreign aid budget, government officials and civil servants have estimated that to meet the UK’s £11.6bn commitment, we would need to spend 83% of the Foreign Office’s official development assistance budget. Taking this action would detract from other priorities such as support for women’s issues.
The reported rowing back of the UK government’s climate finance pledge threatens to destroy the fragile trust that the most climate vulnerable countries have built with the UK.
–Zac Goldsmith, former Minister of State for Overseas Territories, Commonwealth, Energy, Climate and Environment
Zac Goldsmith, when interviewed by The Guardian, addressed how infeasible this pledge would now be under the current constraints, stating that: “The hockey stick of spending will be so steep that whoever is in government after the next election would have to savagely slash humanitarian, education, health and other funding in order to hit the £11.6bn target.” Civil servants have presented options to the government that would allow the UK to meet its spending commitment by 2026, ranging from counting other amounts, previously unrelated to the government’s climate pledge, as part of the climate budget to eating into other budgets or even to delay the goal. A potential solution could stem from a one-off Treasury grant, however resistance is expected from the Chancellor, Jeremy Hunt. All of these aforementioned solutions would diminish Britain’s climate leadership status, with civil servants involved arguing that: “there is a possibility that we pull out all of the stops, take significant reputational hits in other areas and still fail to hit £11.6bn”.
All of these aforementioned solutions would diminish Britain’s climate leadership status
The Foreign Office has denied that the climate pledge is to be dropped, stating that: “Claims that the international climate finance pledge is being dropped are false. As the prime minister set out at Cop27, the government remains committed to spending £11.6bn on international climate finance and we are delivering on that pledge.” However, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) argued that despite the commitments made by the UK government, there has been a failure to “act decisively”. Lord Deben, former Chairman of the CCC, in a statement to 10 Downing Street, stated that: “the Government must act urgently… – it cannot wait until the next General Election. I have to ask you directly to heed the advice in the CCC’s report and reclaim the UK’s clear climate leadership role”.