At the UN General Assembly, held on the 27th September, David Cameron announced that Britain would be spending £5.8bn on combatting climate change in poor countries over the next five years.
The figure equates to an increase of about 50 per cent compared to the previous figure of £3.87bn for the period of 2011-2016. The reason for this increase is the particularly severe impact of climate change on the developing world, as these countries are much less able to manage the results of global warming as they arise.
As well as the ability to overcome more effectively issues such as flooding and drought, the money also allows for communities to have access to clean, reliable energy. With regard to this, Cameron states “that energy not only keeps the lights on, it also improves health and education, spurs economic growth and creates jobs”.
This will be funded through the foreign aid budget. At present, the budget stands at a noteworthy 0.7 per cent of gross national income. According to the Department of Energy and Climate Change, we are currently the only G7 nation to meet the internationally agreed target and the only one to include it in legislation.
But several critiques of this promise exist, and one is precisely to do with the allocation from the foreign aid budget. Leader of the Green Party for England and Wales, Natalie Bennett, has come out against it, saying other foreign aid beneficiaries will suffer as a result of the reallocation.
However, as funds are not limitless, perhaps the stronger argument is the apparent controversy between domestic and foreign policy. Bennett decries Cameron’s pledge saying it “smacks of hypocrisy”, referring to the endorsement of fracking and as well as cuts in subsidies to wind farms, solar plants, and biomass. This is indeed a more paradoxical position.
One explanation may be the split in the Tory Party over the correct prioritisation of climate change. David Cameron is in favour of spending on climate change, while Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne has not shown it the same level of concern.
Furthermore, there is a minority of voters that don’t believe in global warming. While a right of centre party is in power, and Britain votes for the Conservatives because of their approach to the economy, climate change is unlikely to top every list in terms of importance. In a time where climate change should be a priority, this is a concern.
However comparisons cannot be drawn quite as simply as they seem to appear. The UK does not control the spending of each individual foreign country, only an aspect of international intervention. As a result, the things a government has to account for are far less extensive than the broad array of concerns a government has to manage within its own nation.
Something that can, and should, be prioritised in foreign aid, cannot be transferred as simply to the national level. But scrutiny is the most effective cause of improvement. Criticism should be taken seriously and used to measure how well the UK is managing climate change at home.
Ultimately, however, the response to Cameron’s decision to increase the amount spent on climate finance has been positive: UNICEF “strongly welcome this announcement from the UK government”, and Christian Aid chief executive Minghella states “the UK’s pledge of greater climate finance will play a transformational role in giving people the climate stability they need to lift themselves out of poverty.” With important talks coming up in Paris, the UK has set a strong example for other nations to follow.