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UK ‘underspend’ on climate crisis to be used to bolster military aid for Ukraine

Britain has failed to deliver £250m of projects designed to help hit net zero emissions

Harry Cockburn
Environment Correspondent
Thursday 30 June 2022 21:37 BST
Sunak pledges to make UK world's first net zero financial centre at Cop26

The UK’s expanded £1bn commitment to military aid for Ukraine will be partly funded through underspending on climate finance, the business minister Kwasi Kwarteng has said.

Following the British government’s announcement it would nearly double support to Ukraine to help stave off the Russian invasion, Mr Kwarteng tweeted: "My department has contributed to the effort by surrendering climate finance and foreign aid underspends."

The admission comes a month after The Independent revealed the UK government failed to deliver almost a quarter of a billion pounds in green projects aimed at hitting net zero emissions even as Boris Johnson urged governments around the world to drastically raise their investment in tackling the climate crisis.

Some £241m earmarked for cancelling out UK carbon emissions by 2050 was handed back to the Treasury in the last financial year by the business department. But it appears the underspent money now going to Ukraine may have originally been earmarked for international climate projects and could represent further underspending by the department.

An official at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) told The Independent they could not provide figures for how much of the underspend would now be used by the Treasury for military assistance in Ukraine.

However they did identify the underspend as being in the International Climate Finance (ICF) programme, and money from Official Development Assistance (ODA), which is government aid money that promotes and targets the economic development and welfare of developing countries.

The admission of the underspend by BEIS comes months before the Cop27 climate conference in Egypt, where climate finance is set to be on the top of the agenda, and also just hours after the climate change committee said there were “major failures” in government plans to reach net zero emissions.

Ami McCarthy, a political campaigner for Greenpeace, told The Independent: “It’s incredibly jarring that one day after government climate advisers called out the UK’s lack of climate action, our business secretary is boasting about having climate money left over.

“The government now finds itself in the astonishing position of still paying fossil fuel money to [Vladimir] Putin, while sending its climate underspend to [Volodymyr] Zelensky – it’s gross.”

She added: “At a time of a fossil fuel-funded war, an energy crisis, a cost of living crisis and a climate crisis, the government should be throwing the kitchen sink at climate solutions – not ending up with leftover cash that’s unspent.

“The business secretary needs to get on with his job, and take action now to roll out heat pumps, home insulation, and onshore wind; cutting our own energy usage and reducing our reliance on Russian gas and oil. This would stop us funding Putin’s war, it would tackle the climate crisis and bring bills down too. For all these crises the solutions are the same.”

Carla Denyer, co-leader of the Green Party, told The Independent: “We have to question how on earth a government that claims to be a leader in tackling climate change could have an underspend on tackling this global threat. It is understandable that the government wants to spend more helping Ukraine, but this money should come out of budgets that will further damage our climate: pots such as the £28bn earmarked for road building, and ending tax breaks for fossil fuel projects.”

The announcement of new funding for military aid to support Ukraine brings the UK’s support to Kyiv to a total of £2.3bn.

The UK has also spent £1.5bn on humanitarian and economic support for Ukraine since the invasion in February.

On Thursday, Mr Johnson also committed to raising UK defence spending to 2.5 per cent of GDP.

But Tobias Ellwood, the Tory chairman of the Commons defence committee, said it is “too little, too late”.

Mr Ellwood, who has called for per cent of GDP to be spent on defence, also condemned Mr Johnson for going ahead with planned cuts to the size of the Army.

“This is NOT the time to cut the Army by 10,000,” he said on Twitter.

“And moving to 2.5 per cent defence spend by 2030 is too little too late.”

Conservative MP Julian Lewis, the chair of parliament’s intelligence and security committee, described the spending increase as “feeble”, accusing the prime minister of “an inability or unwillingness to face up to the gravity of the current crisis”.

It is understood the pledge could amount to an extra £55.1bn cumulatively over the rest of the decade, based on Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) forecasts of the size of the economy.

Speaking at the end of a Nato conference in Spain, Mr Johnson urged struggling Britons to accept that the “cost of freedom is always worth paying”, amid fears of Ukraine war “fatigue” as living standards fall at home.

The prime minister sought to bolster faith that funding Ukraine would be worth it, arguing a Russian victory would worsen the economic situation.

“Unless we get the right result in Ukraine, Putin will be in a position to commit further acts of aggression against other parts of the former Soviet Union more or less with impunity,” he said.

“That will drive further global uncertainty, further oil shocks, further panics and more economic distress for the whole world.”

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