The UK plans to expand its definition of what counts as climate aid in order to meet its pledge on international spending without boosting funding, according to people familiar with the matter.
(Bloomberg) — The UK plans to expand its definition of what counts as climate aid in order to meet its pledge on international spending without boosting funding, according to people familiar with the matter.
The decision adds to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s political gamble this week by moving the goalposts on the government’s green agenda and will give international partners further grounds to question the UK’s leadership on climate issues.
Sunak’s administration wants to allow more overseas development projects to be categorized as climate aid, to avoid the UK having to spend more money in order to reach its £11.6 billion ($14.3 billion) climate finance goal in the five years to 2026, the people said. An internal government memo, seen by Bloomberg in July, revealed officials’ doubts about hitting the target.
US climate envoy John Kerry has stepped up pressure on the UK and other countries to ensure they’re on track to meet a United Nations climate summit target of $100 billion a year in global climate finance. Funds are provided by developed countries to support developing nations in their efforts to address climate change and its impacts.
Kerry spoke with representatives from the UK and other countries about their progress toward meeting climate finance pledges on the sidelines of the G20 summit in New Delhi earlier this month, as well as the Petersberg Climate Dialog in Berlin in May, according to people familiar with the conversations.
A UK government spokesperson said its “committed to spending £11.6 billion on international climate finance and we are already delivering on that pledge.” They pointed to Sunak’s pledge of $2 billion to the Green Climate Fund earlier this month.
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The UK is falling “below the internal target trajectory,” according to the document drawn up by foreign, energy and environment officials, Bloomberg reported in July. Meeting the climate finance pledge will be a “huge challenge,” the officials wrote, and will require the government to scale back other humanitarian aid commitments.
By tagging a wider range of development projects as climate finance in order to meet the pledge Sunak risks further criticism about his plans to water-down climate policy. This week, he softened a number of key green policies, including delaying a ban on the sale of new petrol cars by five years, in what he described as a “more proportionate” approach to tackling climate change.
He insisted the UK’s still committed to reaching net zero by 2050. The government is likely to argue that the change to the climate aid definition will align them with other developed nations, who have wider criteria for what counts as climate spending, the people said. The UK spent a total of £12.8 billion on overseas aid in 2022.
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Still, the UK, which hosted the annual UN negotiations on climate change in Glasgow less than two years ago and has cut emissions faster than any other major industrialized economy, has been seen as international leader on climate issues. That perception may not last. Former US Vice President Al Gore, a leading proponent of radical climate action, was quick to excoriate Sunak’s pivot, calling it “shocking and disappointing.”
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Climate negotiators are bracing for lackluster numbers to be reported in coming months for contributions to the $100 billion pledge in 2021, during the Covid-19 pandemic. While contributions were expected to have picked up dramatically in 2022 and developed countries are hoping to hit the commitment in 2023, the lagging data casts doubt on that trajectory.
That may sow more doubt and distrust by vulnerable, developing nations heading into global climate talks in Dubai later this year.
“The longer we go without reporting and the more excuses you hear, the more I think it does start to set people wondering,” said Joe Thwaites, a senior advocate focused on international climate finance at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “People are going to be still asking questions, and saying ‘Trust us, it’s there,’ won’t cut it.”
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