Gordon Brown warned of a worldwide "climate emergency" last night as he unveiled a £13.4bn global fund to help poor countries cope with the effects of global warming.
At the Commonwealth heads of government summit in Trinidad, the Prime Minister called on developing nations to start cutting their greenhouse gas emissions immediately and tackle what he called the "new historic injustice" of climate change.
Mr Brown said the resources, including £800m of British money over three years, would "kickstart" the Copenhagen climate change process ahead of the crucial UN talks in the Danish capital next month.
The Copenhagen Launch Fund has the backing of Commonwealth nations, and the French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, who arrived in Trinidad to address Commonwealth leaders yesterday after attending the Amazon summit in Brazil. Sources said it would also be backed by the US. The money will be available from next year and will fund measures to alleviate and adapt to climate change, including paying countries to halt deforestation and build flood defences and renewable power stations.
It will be split 50-50 between grant in aid to help countries adapt to rising sea levels, hurricanes and drought, and "payment by results" to nations that mitigate the effects of rising emissions.
Some 90 per cent of future growth in emissions will be generated by developing nations, and one purpose of the fund is to discourage further depletion of the rainforests, which accounts for 20 per cent of carbon emissions. Rainforest nations such as Brazil, Guyana and Papua New Guinea will receive funding only when they can show, through satellite photographs, that they have stopped cutting down trees.
Addressing 52 Commonwealth leaders in Port of Spain, Mr Brown said: "Together the collective power of the Commonwealth must be brought together to tackle a new historic injustice, that of climate change. We face a climate emergency: we cannot wait until 2013 to begin taking action."
A legally binding Copenhagen treaty is not expected to be in force for another year because of a failure to reach agreement on cutting carbon emissions. Financing for tackling climate change – expected to reach £89bn by 2020 as a result of the treaty – would not start until 2013. Mr Brown said the launch fund would therefore bridge the gap between now and 2013.
Britain's contribution is not new money but will come from the Department for Energy's environmental transformation budget. The Prime Minister said: "From London to Trinidad and Tobago to Copenhagen may seem a roundabout journey, but this is one of the roads to Copenhagen to make sure we get an agreement that will work."