Critics of Cameron's environmental pledge should be reminded that the UK's contribution is actually very small.
Critics of Cameron’s environmental pledge should be reminded that the UK’s contribution is actually very small
Conveniently for UKIP, the Rochester and Strood by-election coincides with Cameron’s pledge of £720 million to the ‘Green Climate Fund’ (GCF), a move that is sure to be unpopular with UKIP voters.
UKIP has vowed to ‘make cuts to foreign aid that are real and rigorous’ in order to help ‘rebuild prosperity’. In February, Farage insisted that ‘charity begins at home’, and said that foreign aid should be diverted to help those affected by the flooding in Britain.
UKIP is also notoriously hostile to environmental policies. Their European election manifesto pledged to repeal the Climate Change Act and EU renewables targets, and favoured coal fire plants, ignoring increasingly urgent calls from the IPCC to tackle carbon emissions.
David Cameron also has GCF detractors within his party. Conservative backbencher Philip Davies remarked that:
“I am not entirely sure the by-election will be decided by this decision but both are issues that play into Ukip’s hands as they go to show the government is out of touch with public opinion.”
It is ridiculous to suggest that clawing back the 0.7 per cent of GDP spent on foreign aid will have much effect on ‘rebuilding’ prosperity in the UK. But more importantly, we need to address the injustice and inequality at the heart of the climate change debate.
The countries which will suffer most from the impacts of climate change are the less developed ones, even though developed nations are the biggest emitters of GHG emissions, and are the most able to provide assistance.
In 2010, the UK ranked tenth in CO2 emissions from energy consumption; in terms of net national wealth, an important indicator of spending ability, the UK is fifth in the world in 2014. The case for the UK to make significant contributions to help developing countries cope with the challenges of climate change is unanswerable.
What is problematic, however, is the weak approach that Cameron has taken on this issue. Cameron has already stated that ‘when we make an announcement it won’t be new money – it’s money already set aside’.
The government has also indicated that climate change related aid would be included within the aid budget already set. This, however, appears to contrast with the 2010 Cancun agreements, which formally established the GCF amongst parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), including the UK.
The Cancun agreements called for the ‘mobilization and provision of scaled-up, new, additional, adequate and predictable financial resources… necessary to address the adaptation and mitigation needs of developing countries.
It was an important feature of the GCF that:
“the Fund has pledged to provide new and additional resources to respond to climate change in the poorest and most vulnerable countries… revenue for the Fund should represent new commitments, rather than [be] diverted from monies that have already been earmarked for some other form of development assistance… [such as funding] being “balanced” against aid budgets.”
So Cameron is ostensibly giving with one hand and taking away with the other. Western governments have also been criticised for leaving the fund stagnant; although the fund has existed since 2010, this is the first pledge made by the UK.
The GCF is now close to reaching its minimum target of $10 bn prior to the UN climate conference in December; however the fund had initially aimed at $10 bn per year, and there is still $91.4 bn remaining until the $100 bn target is reached by 2020.
Meena Raman from Third World Network said that ‘given the scale of the challenge at hand for developing countries, the UK contribution is very small.’
Contrary to Philip Davies’ suggestion, YouGov polls show that the British public does support foreign aid. However, there is good evidence that the extent of support depends on how effective the public thinks aid is.
Of course it is important that the funds are allocated effectively. Developed countries pushed for a Private Sector Facility (PSF) as a mechanism for the GCF to encourage private sector investment into adaptation via various financial instruments; the US also resisted ‘enhanced direct access’, which would remove some of the control donor countries have over the fund.
Developing countries, however, were concerned that powers given to the board overseeing the PSF (which included a representative of a corporate lobbying group) would give the private sector too great a role in governing the fund, which could promote risky investments and remove the necessary control by small, local enterprises.
Friends of the Earth published a report concluding that “private finance will be especially difficult to deploy responsibly in low and lower-middle income countries, as well as in marginalized communities in all developing countries. Further, private climate finance cannot be a substitute for direct public finance”.
Many others have stressed that it is crucial that there is local involvement rather than centralised planning if the objectives of the UNFCCC are to be attained.
Whilst it is undoubtedly good news that the GCF is at last building some momentum,western leaders clearly still have to do a great deal more to show that they appreciate the urgency and scale of the tasks climate change presents.
Sam Gurney is a member of the Green PartyLike this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.