Over 90 UK civil society groups – representing a spectrum of cross-cutting priorities – from climate and nature, humanitarian aid, development, trade unions and disability inclusion, on Friday, July 7, 2023, wrote to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, demanding that he honour the UK’s climate finance promise of £11.6 billion and ensure its delivery as was promised in 2019.
Earlier this week, reports suggested that the government was considering dropping the pledge citing fiscal burdens from the Covid-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine.
Civil society groups are calling for the government to fulfil its commitment and urgently demonstrate how it will be met.
Catherine Pettengell, Executive, Director of Climate Action Network UK (CAN-UK), the organisation that coordinated the letter, said: “Today’s letter from more than 70 civil society organisations in the UK demonstrates the strength and breadth of support for UK climate finance. This government must not turn its back on countries and communities least responsible for the climate crisis but suffering its worst impacts. True leadership means taking responsibility for the UK’s historical emissions and the wealth that has generated and giving back fairly, to secure a better future for everyone.”
Tasneem Essop, Executive Director, Climate Action Network: “That the UK government is even considering dropping its finance pledge exposes the moral vacuum at the centre of its leadership. It is a reminder that the $100 billion remains unmet, three years after it was due. Since then, the climate crisis has escalated in scale and pace and the money needed for adaptation, mitigation and to address Loss and Damage has increased multifold. Rich nations cannot choose to just drop their public finance commitments. They are obliged to meet these commitments and they have the capacity to raise these funds through taxing fossil fuel polluters, corporations and the super-wealthy. It is time to pay up.”
Marcio Astrini, executive secretary, Observatório do Clima, Brazil: “Weeks after we witnessed the Bonn climate conference nearly implode because of unkept finance promises by developed countries, the British threat to drop its commitments is an awful omen. It could open a precedent for other developed countries and condemn COP28. The UK must honour Glasgow and walk the talk on climate leadership.”
Landry Ninteretse, Africa Regional Director 350.org: “The UK government’s betrayal of their climate finance promise is a stark reflection of their priorities. Rishi Sunak and his ministers demonstrate a complete lack of concern for credibility, climate justice, and sustainable development. This sends a bad signal to other wealthy countries that have pledged to accelerate climate action through sustained ambitious finance.”
Marlene Achoki, Global policy Co-lead Climate Justice, CARE International: “Countries in the global north, such as the UK, who have done the most to cause the climate crisis have a responsibility to provide climate finance to those now experiencing the terrible impacts. Worsening droughts, floods and other extreme weather events are devastating the lives of the world’s most marginalised, especially women and girls already facing inequality. This is not the moment to shirk responsibilities and go back on commitments.
“It shows the unsustainability and lack of trust in governments counting climate finance towards their aid budgets, which only results in vulnerable communities losing out. The UK, and all donor governments, should provide 0.7% of GNI as aid and meet climate finance commitments through new and additional financing .This is not about charity but a climate debt that the global north owes to the most vulnerable.”
Iskander Erzini Vernoit, Director of the IMAL Initiative, the non-profit North African climate think-tank based in Morocco: “Right now, the UK is not leading from behind; it is, quite simply, behind. If the UK government professes to have regard for climate and development challenges, as its rhetoric would suggest, its international climate and development spending should be increased well beyond 0.7% of its GDP. The 0.7% is a prior commitment on which the UK government has reneged at a moment of need, but far greater sums are required.“
Carmin O’Neal, Climate Change Advisor at Action Against Hunger UK: “Climate change remains everyone’s responsibility, but yet no one’s at the same time. The reported rowing back of the UK government’s climate finance pledge is the latest example of the UK’s dwindling influence on working with lower-income countries. Meanwhile, countries like Pakistan and the Philippines are reeling from intense and often repeated climate shocks, like flooding and super typhoons, which they have done little, if anything, to cause – it is a sobering fact that countries like the UK remain some of the biggest carbon emitters.
“Added to this, we know that climate change is having a real influence on ever rising hunger levels. Droughts in Somalia and intense flooding in South Sudan have laid waste to vital crop land causing mass displacement; people don’t know where their next meal will come from and small farmers – the backbone of the global supply chain – lose vital income for their livelihoods.
“The government must urgently honour prior commitments on climate change finance and provide clear time bound plans to do so. It’s high time to see that the increase of aid spending to 0.7% of Gross National Income is a global imperative, and make climate change finance additional to money for overseas aid to show seriousness on the issue.“
Yoko Lu, Executive Director, TEAL Climate: “The UK is the leading country that provides a high potential of opportunities and finance especially for the developing countries, yet this move is an alarm to us all – We cannot let the UK ignore the urgency of the crisis and continue to support the fossil fuel companies. The UK needs to recognize the threat to their credibility.”
Rachel Simon, Policy Coordinator International Climate Finance, Climate Action Network Europe: “If the UK cuts its climate finance commitment it would destroy its international credibility, at a time when multilateral trust on climate action is more necessary than ever. More importantly, while this cut represents a tiny fraction of the UK’s public budget, it would have devastating impacts on people in the Global South’s resilience to climate change.
“Given the UK’s historical responsibility for the climate crisis it has a moral obligation to increase, not cut, its climate finance and put a concrete plan for spending in place.”
Gwen Hines, CEO, Save the Children UK: “That the UK looks set to break its international climate finance commitments is not only a disappointment, but also a glaring testament to its disregard for global responsibilities.
“Its shortsighted decision to slash the aid budget has had disastrous consequences for children all over the world. Now it has created a false and unnecessary choice between prioritising aid and tackling the climate crisis.
“Despite proclaiming leadership in the fight against climate change, the UK is failing to live up to its rhetoric. Children in the world’s poorest countries who bear the least responsibility for the climate crisis are suffering the most.
“It is shameful that the UK will not be able to provide the finance to help deal with a problem that it contributed to. The UK must urgently restore its aid budget to 0.7% of GNI and increase climate finance to uphold its commitments to children across the world.”
Polly Truscott, Amnesty International, UK’s Foreign Policy Adviser: “As the birthplace of the industrial revolution, the UK has over time been one of the world’s largest emitters of greenhouse gases and remains one of the biggest economies of the world.
“Given its obligations under human rights and climate treaties, this would make any government backtracking on its climate commitments, which it is reportedly considering, not only unlawful but shameful.
“Marginalised people in less wealthy countries, many of which were colonised by the UK, are suffering loss and damage now from climate change primarily caused by industrialised nations. They should not have to suffer further as a result of the UK or other wealthy countries seeking to renege on their commitments. These states on the frontline of the climate crisis are entitled to significant UK funding and support.“
Nafkote Dabi, Climate policy lead, Oxfam International: “At a time where climate finance needs are rapidly accelerating, it is distressing to hear that the UK may backtrack on its self-imposed pledge. The UK considering revising their climate finance commitments critically undermines trust in international climate cooperation at a time where it is already hanging by a thread. Predictable climate finance is a lifeline for people living through climate-fuelled crises, and is essential to enabling a fast and just transition away from fossil fuels. Without it, there is no way we will collectively avoid catastrophic climate change. To restore trust, the UK should quickly set out a plan for how climate finance will be spent before the end of 2026 – as it originally committed to.“
Rebecca Newsom, Head of Politics, Greenpeace UK: “Averting the greatest threat to life on earth depends on building trust and momentum among nations, especially around funding pledges. This leak shows the precise opposite – promises made by the UK government in the run-up to the Glasgow summit risk unravelling like thread from a cheap suit.
“The government must not turn its back on the millions around the world losing lives and livelihoods due to climate impacts that they did little to cause. Rather than u-turning on commitments and eating into the aid budget, ministers should come up with the funds needed for climate finance and loss and damage by raising taxes on fossil fuel companies – five of whom made nearly $200 billion profit in 2022 alone. The government can either show they have the political will to do the right thing now, or prove those accusing them of indifference to the climate crisis absolutely correct.”
Sarah Roberts, CEO, Practical Action: “Practical Action is deeply concerned about reports that the UK government’s £11.6 billion commitment to climate finance made at the COP is likely to be cut. This move would see less money spent on climate action at a time when communities are already experiencing devastating impacts. Climate finance is a responsibility to countries and communities that have been made disproportionately vulnerable to climate change but who have contributed the least to the problem. We urge the UK Government to keep to this vital commitment and to provide a clear and ambitious roadmap for how this finance will be delivered.“
Paul Cook, Head of Advocacy at Tearfund: “The outrageous claim that climate finance money should be spent elsewhere on humanitarian priorities is misleading. Climate finance should be new and additional to international aid specifically to prevent this from happening in a context where extreme weather related disasters are on the rise. Cutting funding for reducing emissions and adapting to live with climate impacts is dangerously short-sighted and undermines global efforts to save lives.
“When wealthy and high carbon emitting nations fail to step up to their climate responsibilities, it hurts us all but people in poverty most. Rishi Sunak’s government still has time to keep the UK’s long-standing promise to low-income countries and communities of £11.6bn by 2026 in climate funding. Failing to keep this promise would be a miserly betrayal that will cost lives and livelihoods. It would be a backwards step for international cooperation at a time when working together is more crucial than ever.“
Pratishtha Singh, Senior International Policy Analyst, Climate Action Network Canada: “It would be unacceptable for the UK to break its promise to deliver £11.6 billion for climate and nature. This would undermine the UK’s reputation on the world stage and shatter trust with Global South countries. The millionaire Prime Minister needs to get behind voter sentiment and build on the legacy of COP26 for bold global leadership on climate action. The world expects the UK to do much better.”
Sophie Rigg, Head of Policy and Research, Climate and Humanitarian, ActionAid UK: “That the Prime Minister is considering reneging on our climate finance commitment lays bare the UK’s lack of integrity and failure to act as a global leader on climate, just two years after hosting COP26. Sticking your head in the sand and willing climate change away is a deadly mistake, we must fight this crisis with finance and brave leadership. Breaking this commitment to spend £11.6 billion on slowing climate change and adapting the planet to its impacts is an enormous breach of trust for the countries already facing the devastating consequences of the climate crisis.
“The UK has reaped financial rewards from its high-polluting economy over the past century and has a historical responsibility to address climate change. Instead of taking much-needed development and humanitarian funds, we need new and additional climate finance that recognise the scale of this crisis. At a time when trust in global climate negotiations is at an all-time low, the UK’s failure to keep its promises is putting the entire future of the COP process at risk.”
Sophie Powell, Chief of UK Advocacy and Policy Campaigns and UK Advocacy, Christian Aid: “This is a desperately short-sighted and shameful betrayal of those facing the worst impacts of the climate crisis. Breaking our long-held promises and tearing up years of agreed climate diplomacy are the actions of a reckless Government.
“Climate finance is not a handout, but a debt we owe to vulnerable countries for the damage we have caused through burning fossil fuels. It is not aid and should never have come from the aid budget in the first place.
“A UK government that wants to be taken seriously by global South countries, which is essential to keeping global climate talks on track, will need to rebuild the country’s climate credibility by mobilising additional public finance to meet our international climate obligations, whilst accelerating the journey to net zero at home. Taxing polluters would be the best place to start.”
The Letter – ‘Keep the Promise’
Dear Prime Minister,
Successive UK Prime Ministers, including yourself, have stood on podium after podium and declared the UK a global leader on climate action – promising net zero by 2050 and £11.6 billion in climate finance over five years from 2021 – and urging other countries to do more to address this global crisis.
The existential threat we all face due to climate change can only be tackled with global cooperation – and progress that we all benefit from can only be achieved when there is trust that promises made will be kept.
At COP27 in Egypt in November, you stood up and said “it is morally right to honour our promises, but it is also economically right too” – and we wholeheartedly agreed. Yet last week the Climate Change Committee revealed that the UK is off course to deliver its promised emissions reductions, and now it is reported that your government may break its promise on climate finance too.
As 92 UK civil society organisations working across environment, international development, humanitarian response, education, inclusion and rights issues, we are writing to urge you to keep your promise to communities on the frontline of the climate crisis to provide £11.6 billion in climate finance over five years between April 2021 and March 2026, and to urgently demonstrate how this commitment will be met.
Climate finance is a vital component of the Paris Agreement, without which limiting the rise in global temperature to 1.5°C will not be possible; without which the devastation of climate change will cost countless lives and livelihoods around the world for those least responsible for causing the climate crisis and cause irreversible damage to the ecosystems on which they depend; and without which meaningful international cooperation on climate action would collapse.
The world cannot afford such tragedies from short-sighted decisions.
While fossil fuel companies in the UK enjoy record-breaking profits, it is impossible for the world to comprehend claims from this government that the UK cannot afford more than 0.5% of gross national income to contribute towards global efforts to address poverty, nature degradation and loss, and climate change. This government has chosen to cut Official Development Assistance (ODA) while at the same time drawing on it for climate finance, which civil society has repeatedly warned is both unsustainable and unjust. This double counting puts climate finance in direct competition with other vital non-climate ODA priorities and is not in the spirit of the UN agreement to provide new and additional climate finance to countries least responsible for causing the climate crisis.
Climate finance is not a handout, but a debt we owe to countries and communities that have been made vulnerable to climate change, while the UK has benefited from burning fossil fuels. We have a historical responsibility to address the harm caused and to play a leading role in financing a global just and equitable transition away from fossil fuels and towards resilience. This is not aid and climate finance should not have come from the ODA budget in the first place. It is also in the UK’s enlightened self interest to prevent further climate breakdown.
The UK’s credibility on the global stage now hangs in the balance, and we urge you to demonstrate how the £11.6 billion will be met and live up to your own words from COP27:
“By honouring the promises we made in Glasgow and by directing public and private finance towards the protection of our planet, we can turn our struggle against climate change into a global mission for new jobs and clean growth and we can bequeath our children a greener planet and a more prosperous future. That’s a legacy we could be proud of.”
Executive Director, Climate Action Network UK (CAN-UK)