As published on: businessgreen.com, Tuesday 31 October, 2023.
Ahead of COP28 civil society organisations sign statement condemning the UK's retreat and recent changes on climate finance
More than 70 UK NGOs, green groups and other civil society organisations have today written to the Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to demand the government reverses recent changes its assessment of the UK's international climate finance commitments.
Published today, the letter comes in response to the government's recent statement on climate finance, in which it outlined significant changes to what will count as 'climate finance' going forward. Critics have argued the changes open the door to the UK widening the pool of existing aid donations that can count as 'climate finance' rather than increasing the amount of financial support offered to such initiatives in line with the UK's international obligations.
The civil society organisations - which include figures from environment, international development, education, trade union, disability inclusion, trade, humanitarian, business and faith groups - first wrote to the Prime Minister this summer when they urged the government to keep its promise to provide £11.6bn over five years in international climate finance to developing countries which have been made vulnerable to climate change.
But the government's recent statement on climate finance revealed that in order to reach its target, the UK is now counting spend which previously did not qualify as international climate finance.
As such, the signatories have once again written to Number 10, in which they argue that rather than "actually directing the finance needed to this urgent priority", the latest changes announced by the government instead amount to "just an exercise in creative accounting" that "sets a worrying precedence for further weakening of UK international climate finance".
The letter was co-ordinated by Climate Action Network UK (CAN-UK) with support from Bond and includes more than 60 signatures from organisations including Fairtrade Foundation, Greenpeace, Oxfam GB, Practical Action, RSPB and WWF UK among others.
The letter comes amid increasing pressure on richer nations such as the UK to fulfil their long-held promise to collectively provide $100bn of climate finance each year to countries vulnerable to global warming ahead of the crucial UN Climate Summit in Dubai later this autumn.
Ahead of COP28, today's letter urges the government "not to turn its back on communities on the frontline of climate change", warning that the UK's reputation and credibility risks being "hugely diminished".
It further urges the government "to fairly fulfil the promises you made on climate finance in a comparable way to previous UK climate finance, and to rebuild the UK's reputation and influence on this vital issue of climate leadership".
Catherine Pettengell, executive director of Climate Action Network UK (CAN-UK), criticised the government for "changing the goal posts" which she said is "not a credible or appropriate way for the UK to meet its international commitments".
"Today civil society organisations from across the UK are calling on the government to reverse this decision and retain both the quality and quantity of UK climate finance," she added. "Climate finance is a vital promise to keep to countries and communities on the frontline of a crisis not of their making, and simply relabelling other spending does nothing to help them, and instead undermines progress to collectively address the global challenge of climate change."
Pettengall also called the government's U-turn "bitterly disappointing and short-sighted", highlighting that it should not turn its back on "countries and communities least responsible for the climate crisis but suffering its worst impacts".
"True leadership means taking responsibility for the UK's historical emissions and the wealth that has generated and giving back fairly, to secure a better future for everyone," she added.
Gideon Rabinowitz, director of policy and advocacy at Bond, added that expanding the definition of what counts as UK climate finance "sets a dangerous precedent for other countries to meet their own climate commitments".
"This short-term thinking by the government damages the UK's reputation as a reliable partner and sends a message to climate-vulnerable countries that the UK is watering down its promises," he added.
However, the government claims it is on track to meet its climate finance commitments, and has argued that recent changes to how it accounts for climate finance in the UK's aid donations is broadly in line with the approach taken by many other developed countries.
A spokesperson for the government said the UK government "remains committed to spending £11.6bn on international climate finance and we are delivering on that pledge".
"We spent over £3.2bn on international climate finance between financial years 2021/22 and 2022/23, supporting developing countries to reduce poverty and respond to the causes and impacts of climate change," the statement added.