Boris Johnson has been warned against further foreign aid cuts by senior government climate change advisers ahead of COP26. A letter to the PM concerning chancellor Rishi Sunak’s proposed cuts warned that the UK may arrive at the climate summit seeming unprepared and unwilling to help climate vulnerable countries.
The letter was written by Friends of COP, a panel appointed by COP president Alok Sharma comprised of some the world’s leading climate experts, and expresses a “deep concern” for the impact of Sunak’s proposed cuts. The cuts would be the result of the Treasury’s planned accounting changes ahead of next week’s Spending Review. The government has a current overseas aid target of 0.5% of national income but officials are seeking to alter the definition of what counts as overseas aid. The altered definition could then include currency handouts known as Special Drawing Rights (SDRs) from the International Monetary Fund, and Covid vaccine donations to lower income countries, which could mean that £1billion less is spent on aid such as humanitarian support.
The letter warned of the effect this will have on the UK’s credibility at the climate summit next month, saying: "The ability of the UK to act as a genuine, trusted partner for developing countries is of crucial importance to COP26's success. Further implied cuts to overseas aid at the Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) would send a signal that the UK is neither committed to, nor serious about, enabling a green global recovery from the pandemic, nor improving the resilience of the most vulnerable to climate change."
The UK previously announced that it would be cutting aid by £4 billion, breaking a Conservative manifesto promise, which many lower-income countries understandably expressed concern over. In a recent report, think tank the Overseas Development Institute warned that negotiations at the summit could be severely undermined by the government’s “sleight of hand” budgeting tactics around foreign aid.
The report states: "If the Treasury slashes budgetary commitments to climate finance days before COP26 starts, developing countries - which have typically contributed fewer per capita emissions - will rightly question why they should bear the costs of climate action and whether they can trust the pledges of developed countries."
This has come on the tail of reports of other manoeuvring by higher income countries ahead of the climate summit. Leaked documents have revealed that several nations are lobbying to change a “crucial” scientific report advising on how to tackle climate change. Countries including Australia, Japan, and Saudi Arabia have requested that the UN play down the need to move away from fossil fuels. The documents also reveal that several wealthier countries have been questioning funding green technologies in lower income countries.
This lobbying and the UK’s proposed cuts to overseas aid will likely raise many questions about just how serious wealthier nations’ commitments to climate recovery are. Green Party MP Caroline Lucas questioned the UK’s commitment on Twitter, revealing that she had “asked Foreign Office ministers what meetings they'd had where #COP26 was the focus of discussion [.] They sent me a spreadsheet [.] It's not been updated for the past year [.] So have there been no meetings about COP26?”