From “top priority” to “top target for cuts”: A Coalition u-turn on climate diplomacy?

Writing for the Telegraph, James Kirkup flagged a couple of weeks ago that William Hague has quietly announced cuts to the Foreign Office budget for climate diplomacy.

Writing for the Telegraph, James Kirkup flagged a couple of weeks ago that William Hague has quietly announced cuts to the Foreign Office budget for climate diplomacy, reporting that the foreign secretary announced he would “cut the FCO’s spending on its Low Carbon High Growth programme by around £3m this financial year and explore alternative sources of funding for the programme for future years”.

But Left Foot Forward recalls that in opposition, in a speech to civil society, Mr Hague said:

Climate change is not simply an environmental and development concern but an urgent foreign and national security concern. I will outline how we will shape Conservative foreign policy to meet this challenge and re-emphasise that it will be one of the top priorities of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and new National Security Council we plan to establish…

“Under a Conservative government climate change will be one of the major guiding influences on our foreign policy in a similar manner to our domestic policy… The FCO has done a great deal of good work in climate diplomacy in recent years and I intend to ensure that it has the resources and high-level support to continue.”

David Miliband has now picked up on what’s happening here, accusing his opposite number of a “policy u-turn” in a blog in which he explains what the fund was used for, writing:

“The Low Carbon High Growth Fund, which I created at the Foreign Office while in Government, had a relatively small budget in spending terms – £14.4 million – but had a global reach…

“We helped create a low-carbon zone in Jilin City in China – a project the Chinese Government are now taking forward, using their resources to lower emissions after intervention from Britain. In Brazil the Government launched a National Plan on climate change with domestic targets, and recognised the impact of our intervention in forming that policy.

“This programme was never about funding other countries’ climate programmes, but using some resources to put British expertise together with other Governments, and helping to bring down carbon emissions. It also brings economic advantages back to Britain, and helps to develop our country as a centre for green growth.”

Left Foot Forward agreed with Mr Hague when he said in a different speech last year that:

“There are two central challenges which are immense in their scope… ‘the alarming features of these two threats are not only that they are new, and not only that their consequences are unknowable, but also that they are almost certainly not reversible once they have happened’.

“I am of course talking about nuclear proliferation and climate change and strongly believe that they are the two biggest threats to humanity.”

Climate policy is now so bound up with our policy on trade, investment and security; it makes sense for it to be even more central to our foreign policy than ever. As Copenhagen illustrated, securing positive international action in the new multi-polar geopolitical context, with its larger number of strategic actors and alliances, requires climate diplomacy to be central to the work of the Foreign Office.

Going forward from Copenhagen, a smarter political strategy to influence other countries and win their support for ambitious climate policy will need to be backed up by our diplomatic machinery. For smart political intelligence on critical countries, and the formation of new international alliances, climate progress needs an engaged FCO.

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