UK Government must align funding aid with 'net-zero' to tackle global climate challenges, MPs warn

The UK Government must place climate change at the centre of its foreign aid strategy and funding decisions if it is to help communities abroad mitigate - and adapt to - global climate challenges, a group of MPs have warned.

The UK Government has previously been accused of funding high-carbon projects abroad which contradict with its domestic carbon targets

The UK Government has previously been accused of funding high-carbon projects abroad which contradict with its domestic carbon targets

In its new report addressed to the Cabinet, the International Development Committee (IDC) sets out recommendations to help ministers make a “meaningful” impact on wide-ranging and serious environmental threats currently facing developing nations.

Published today (8 May) after a six-month inquiry which heard evidence from dozens of stakeholders across the aid sphere, including charities, NGOs, business leaders and Government Ministers such as Claire Perry, the report argues that Ministers should stop positioning climate change as “just one of a number of issues” addressed through aid spending, but as the issue upon which the effectiveness of all aid spending depends.

While praising the UK’s past pro-climate action moves, such as signing the Paris Agreement, adopting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and, most recently, declaring a ‘climate emergency’, the report warns that the UK will not be considered a leader in aid or in climate action in the future without tackling the risks that global warming poses to disadvantaged populations abroad through finance. 

Specifically, it urges the Government to make £1.76bn – the amount it has committed to spend on climate finance during 2020-21 – the annual minimum spend in this area, by ring-fencing it in the upcoming spending review. The figure is believed to be the largest earmarked for this cause in a single year by the UK since records began.

This money, the Committee argues in the report, should be allocated in a “more consistent” way, through the introduction of a new unified decision-making framework. The body recommends that this framework should prioritise initiatives which involve climate adaptation, mitigation and poverty reduction, and excludes those which are not aligned with a “net-zero” carbon pathway for 2050 or earlier.

The latter recommendation comes after the UK’s export credit agency, UK Export Finance (UKEF), was accused by the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) of providing £4.8bn of support to fossil fuel projects between 2010 and 2016, despite the Government’s own commitments to reduce the nation’s reliance on fossil fuels. To put this figure into context, UKEF spent £4.9bn on the International Climate Fund between 2011 and 2017.

In order to underpin its calls to action, the IDC has encouraged the UK Government to adopt the Committee on Climate Change’s (CCC) recommendations for reaching net-zero by 2050. This move, it claims, will render it “unacceptable” for UK aid to be spent on high-carbon projects in developing countries, while inspiring other nations to set clear, time-bound plans for decarbonising their own economies.

“The CCC’s report has set out the measures that need to be taken domestically, but we must also look globally,” IDC chair Stephen Twigg, MP for Liverpool and West Derby, said.

“We cannot simply reflect on what we do at home and think that will be enough. We must look at how we can provide the best support to those nations that will face the most serious consequences of climate change yet have done little to cause it.

“The UK 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.  We need radical action that places climate change front and centre of all aid spending and policy decisions, and dedicated financing to give it teeth.”

Net-zero dreams 

Published last week after the Government requested advice for complete decarbonisation from the CCC last October, the watchdog claims that its framework for net-zero by 2050 can be achieved within the same cost envelope as delivering on the UK's existing carbon budgets. 

Key recommendations are greater support for carbon capture, usage and storage (CCUS) technologies; bringing the 2040 ban on new petrol and diesel car sales forward by at least five years; quadrupling the amount of renewables in the energy mix and using afforestation across 20,000 hectares of land each year. 

Members of the UK's green economy have widely welcomed the strategy, with some arguing that its adoption could bring about a huge economic boon for low-carbon technologies, products and services. Indeed, several big-name businesses such as Unilever, Ikea and Interface had publicly backed the concept of a national or EU-wide transition to net-zero before the CCC published its advice. 

Nonetheless, concerns are continuing to be raised about whether the Government and the wider business sector are willing to show the ambition necessary to create a zero-carbon economy, given that the nation is currently off-track to meet its fourth and fifth carbon budgets. 

Sarah George 



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