High-level government advisers on climate change have warned Boris Johnson against further cuts in foreign aid ahead of the COP26 summit, the BBC learned.
In a letter to the premier, they expressed “deep concern” over the cuts planned by Chancellor Rishi Sunak next week.
Experts said the cuts would show that the UK is “neither committed nor serious” in helping countries vulnerable to climate change.
The Treasury said the UK is a “world leader” in international development.
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The panel – officially known as Friends of COP – was appointed by COP chair Alok Sharma to advise the government ahead of next month’s Glasgow summit – and includes some of the world’s most experienced climate experts.
Their letter – which was seen by the BBC – read: “As ‘Friends of the COP’ we are writing to express our deep concern at the prospect of further cuts in UK aid in the final days before COP26.”
He continued: “The UK’s ability to act as a genuine and trusted partner for developing countries is crucial to the success of COP26. Further implicit cuts in overseas aid to the Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) would send a signal that the UK is neither committed nor serious in enabling a global green recovery from the pandemic, nor in improving the resilience of the most vulnerable to climate change. “
The cuts would be the result of complicated accounting changes planned by the Treasury for next week’s spending review.
Officials want to broaden the definition of what counts as overseas aid. Specifically, they want to include complex currency handouts from the International Monetary Fund known as Special Drawing Rights (SDRs) and Covid vaccine donations for poorer countries.
If these values are counted against the government’s current overseas aid target of 0.5% of national income, this could mean that more than £ 1 billion less is being spent on humanitarian and development support.
The letter states that the UK “would maintain its credibility and maximize the chances of a successful summit” if it did not classify Covid’s SDRs and vaccines as foreign aid.
The fear among climate activists is that developing countries will lose faith in the financial promises made by the UK – and other wealthier nations – to help them adapt their economies to climate change.
Many poorer countries have already voiced their concerns over the UK’s previously announced decision to cut aid by more than £ 4 billion this year.
In a recent report, the Overseas Development Institute warned that a “sleight of hand” with foreign aid threatened to sabotage negotiations in Glasgow.
“If the Treasury cuts budget commitments for climate finance days before the start of COP26, developing countries – which have typically contributed fewer emissions per capita – will rightly wonder why they should bear the costs of climate action and whether they can trust the commitments of developed countries. “
COP friends who signed the letter include:
- Lord Stern, president of the Grantham Research Institute of Climate Change
- Laurence Tubiana, CEO of the European Climate Foundation and former architect of the Paris climate agreement
- Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, former COP20 president
- Lord Turner, chairman of the Energy Transitions Commission
- Christiana Figueres, former executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change
- Corinne Le Quéré, professor of climate change sciences at the University of East Anglia
- James Cameron, president of the ODI
- Mary Robinson, president of the Elders
A Treasury spokesman said the UK “is and will remain a world leader in international development”.
“This year we have provided over £ 10 billion for poverty reduction, climate change and global health security – a larger percentage of our national income than most of the G7,” he said, adding “we will return to the target. 0.7% when the budget situation allows it ».
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