Helping developing countries lower emissions and adapt to increasingly extreme weather patterns is one of the three key pillars of 2015’s landmark Paris Agreement. Having contributed the least to climate change but being most susceptible to the impending risks, developing states hold the short straws – and rightly deserve support from those who pumped the most air into the carbon bubble and reaped the rewards.
So given it’s self-claimed status as a climate leader, you would expect that when it comes to climate finance, the UK is a generous giver. And unlike its domestic efforts, its foreign aid contributions at first appear to live up to that status. Through its International Climate Fund, launched in April 2011, the UK made available £3.87bn over 5 years. It has since committed to an additional spend of £5.8bn from April 2016 to March 2021, with at least £1.76bn coming in 2020. Unlike other countries, it has succeeded in dividing its climate finance relatively equally between adaptation and mitigation, as the Paris Agreement encourages.
The ICF’s direct spending is largely focused on Africa, but 75% of its aid is given to multilateral UN-managed climate funds, which then distribute funding as they see fit. Across these four funds, the UK is the second largest donor, behind the US – which is ceasing much of its funding from 2018 – but ahead of Japan, Germany, and France. Per capita, its funding commitment trails only Norway and Sweden.
However, statistics can be deceiving. Many other leading nations devote a greater proportion of their climate finance to direct country-to-country aid than to UN funds. Overall, current commitments by Japan and Germany outweigh the UK’s, even accounting for differences in GDP. France, with an almost identical GDP to the UK, currently provides £2.7bn a year – almost three times as much as its sister across the channel.
Nor are the UK’s funding commitments increasing at the rate of other contemporaries. 2016’s pledge of just over £1bn actually marks a decrease from £1.25bn in 2015, and last year’s figure looks to be similar to 2016’s mark. The UK’s all-important pledge for 2020, the date by which the Paris Agreement says global climate finance commitments must reach $100bn (£76.6bn), pales in comparison to the almost doubling of ambition pledged by France (£4.5bn). Albeit including in their calculations private investment that wouldn’t occur without public investment, both Germany and Japan are aiming to contribute even more – 10% each of the global 2020 target.
Climate finance is still a major sticking point in UN discussions, and the commitment to aid the switch to a low-carbon, low-risk global society is still, as with the rest of the Paris Agreement, voluntary. This leaves developed nations financial wiggle room that few could say they deserve. Given its particularly imperial and exploitative past, the UK just isn’t giving enough.