UK shortchanging poor countries by £1.9bn a year ‘owed’ for climate crisis, study finds

Far from being world leader, UK found to be ‘lagging behind six other leading nations on climate finance

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Saturday 23 October 2021 12:31
'Grow up': UK's Johnson says world must face climate change

The UK must stump up £1.9bn a year more to pay its “fair share” in helping poor countries meet the climate emergency and lags behind 6 other leading nations, a new analysis says.

Boris Johnson has made “climate finance” – to ensure “guilty” industrialised nations aid developing ones in adapting to the devastating effects of historic carbon emissions – a key issue for the Cop26 summit.

But the study, by the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), finds the UK – far from being a world leader – is falling far short of the contribution it should make to a $100bn (£72.5bn) global fund.

Based on national income, population and historic emissions, the UK “owed” £4.2bn in 2017-18, but handed over just £2bn, only 48 per cent.

The prime minister’s recent promise of around £2.3bn each year until 2025 – to “build our credibility” with poor countries, he said – takes the UK to only 55 per cent of that “fair share” of £4.2bn in 2021-22, the ODI has concluded.

In contrast, France, Germany, Denmark, Japan and Luxembourg are on course to pay their dues over the same time period, while the Netherlands (78 per cent) is also doing better than the UK.

The UK’s shortfall comes after The Independent revealed that future climate finance payments will be swiped from the shrunken foreign aid budget – despite a requirement that they are “additional”.

Dr Laetitia Pettinotti, a senior research officer at the ODI, told The Independent: “Given its historic responsibility in climate change, given its population and its economy – and even with the commitment of £11.6bn to 2025 – we calculated that the UK is falling short by £1.9bn per year.

“The UK is lagging behind six other developed countries, in terms of a fair contribution, and the money will be taken from the aid budget, which is against the principle that any climate finance should be additional.”

The ODI describes its calculations as a “first attempt” to apportion responsibility for meeting the $100bn goal – as the rich world remains $20bn short.

It is also seeking to correct the major weakness of having no rules for agreeing how much each country should pay, warning that “disputes risk poisoning other parts of the climate negotiations”.

“The target is collective with no rule apportioning contribution from each country,” Dr Pettinotti added.

“Not only the target has not been met, but some large economies and historic emitters, like the UK or the US, are not paying enough climate finance relative to other smaller economies and lesser emitters, such as Norway or Denmark.”

Using past carbon emissions “captures the ‘polluter pays’ principle”, the think tank says. They conclude that the UK has the fifth greatest historic debt, behind the US, Japan, Germany and Canada.

Only emissions since 1990 – when a “clear scientific consensus” about global heating was formed – are included, although the starting point could have been the Industrial Revolution, which began in Britain.

The ODI compared the efforts by the 23 countries required, since the $100bn goal was first set by the United Nations at Copenhagen in 2009, to provide money.

Its research says France has committed $7.1bn of annual climate finance in the years to come and “so the country will be meeting its fair share”.

Germany also plans to hike its contribution to $7.1bn (£5bn), which – with additional loans from the KfW development bank – means it is “likely” to meet its target of $7.9-8.8bn.

The worst-performing countries are Australia (7 per cent), Canada (20 per cent) and the US (26 per cent), while Italy, Spain, Portugal and Greece are among countries that fail to even provide sufficient data.

However, despite its large shortfall, the UK is praised for giving grants, rather than loans, as many other countries do, and for better reporting methods.

Downing Street has been asked to respond to the criticism that the UK’s contribution to the $100bn fund fails to meet its “fair share”.

The US’s lowly position comes despite Joe Biden pledging to double its contribution to $11.4bn (£8bn) per year and urging other wealthy countries to follow suit.

In response, Mr Johnson released £550m of climate funds, but did not increase the UK’s annual contribution – and confirmed it would come from aid spending.

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