MPs have slammed the “incoherent policy” that has seen government back £4.8bn of fossil fuel projects at the same time as the Department for International Development spends £4.9bn to help developing countries tackle climate change.
In a report looking at DfID’s work helping countries tackle climate change, parliament's International Development Committee said that government must do more to ensure UK aid spending is able to tackle the "existential threat" of climate change.
MPs said the government had been inconsistent in its response to climate change internationally. Its report showed that between 2010 and 2016, UK Export Finance, the government body tasked with helping British businesses trade across the globe, had supported £4.8bn worth of investment in finance fossil fuel projects. Over a similar period, DfID spent a total of £4.9bn on the International Climate Fund between 2011-17.
“There should be consistency across government to ensure that all aid spending is taking the same approach to climate change,” the committee concluded. “All aid should target reaching net zero emissions, support climate resilience and place climate change as a key consideration in all spending decisions.
“Supporting the fossil fuel economy in developing countries damages the effectiveness of the UK’s approach to combatting climate change and this should be rectified urgently.”
DfID has committed to spending £5.6bn of overseas development assistance (ODA) as international climate finance between 2016/17 and 2020/21, and MPs said that the £1.76bn forecast for the final year of this period should become a ringfenced minimum to be dedicated to climate-related schemes.
The report comes days after MPs approved a motion declaring a climate emergency following a series of protests staged by environment activist group Extinction Rebellion across the country.
Setting out the MPs' findings, committee chair Stephen Twigg said that without an increased focus on climate change, the benefits from DfID’s wider aid spending would be "nullified".
“It is welcome that in recent weeks climate change has taken its rightful place at the top of the news agenda. The scale and seriousness of the challenge to be confronted must be reinforced and reflected upon daily if we are to take meaningful steps to combat it,” he said.
"The Committee on Climate Change report [published earlier this week] has set out the measures that need to be taken domestically, but we must also look globally. We cannot simply reflect on what we do at home and think that will be enough. We must look at how we can provide the best support to those nations that will face the most serious consequences of climate change yet have done little to cause it."
The committee called on the government to introduce new rules governing its support for overseas fossil fuel projects – that it is able to demonstrate how that spend supports such a transition to zero emissions, and outline a plan for how and when that transition will be achieved.
"Climate finance has to be more than meeting a commitment and ticking a box," the report added. "The UK needs to make sure that all climate finance is being spent in the most effective possible way.
“Any financial support for fossil fuels that does not meet these criteria - regardless of whether it is ODA or non-ODA – undermines the government’s International Climate Finance spend. Currently, the support provided to the fossil fuel economy in developing countries by UK Export Finance is damaging the coherence of the government’s approach to combating climate change and this needs to be urgently rectified.”
Responding to the report, newly-appointed international development secretary Rory Stewart said: "We are facing a climate cataclysm. One million animal and plant species are threatened with extinction. We need to take radical steps or we – and our planet – will face an irreversible catastrophe.
"This report by the International Development Committee published today makes for sobering reading. We need new ways of working and a new direction. We need wholesale change."
He added that he wanted to see more of the UK aid budget spent on climate and the environment, particularly on research and development. “As climate extremes worsen, it is the world’s poorest countries and communities which will be most affected, but this is a global issue,” he said.
"Tackling climate change is not only the right thing to do. It is a very smart thing to do. We all breathe the same air as people in China and India and tackling issues like climate change matters to us all. The UK cannot solve such problems alone."