The government is drawing up plans to drop the UK’s flagship £11.6bn climate and nature funding pledge with the prime minster accused of betraying populations most vulnerable to global heating.
The disclosure provoked fury from former ministers and representatives of vulnerable countries, who accused Rishi Sunak of making false promises.
A leaked briefing note to ministers, given to the Foreign Office highlights the reasons for dropping the UK’s contribution to meeting the global $100bn (£78.6bn) a year commitment to developing countries.
It says: “Our commitment to double our international climate finance to £11.6bn was made in 2019, when we were still at 0.7 [% of GDP spent on international aid] and pre-Covid.” It adds that to meet it by the deadline would be a “huge challenge” because of new pressures, including help for Ukraine being included in the aid budget.
To meet the £11.6bn target by 2026, government officials have calculated that it would have to spend 83% of the Foreign Office’s official development assistance budget on the international climate fund. Civil servants said in the leaked document that this “would squeeze out room for other commitments such as humanitarian and women and girls”.
It also claimed that factors such as Ukraine and debt relief could make it even more difficult to meet the target. This is because the government has cut international aid spending to 0.5% of gross national income since the announcement was made, squeezing budgets across the board, and because ministers did not spend most of the money allocated to the climate fund over the past few years, leaving the majority to be spent by 2026.
The UK spent £5.8bn over the previous five years up to 2021. This was doubled, to spend £11.6bn between April 2021 and March 2026, £3bn of which was earmarked for protecting and restoring nature for meeting commitments made in Cop15 last December.
The projects funded include building renewable energy, helping create low-pollution transport and protecting forests in sensitive areas around the globe.
Former Foreign Office minister Zac Goldsmith, who resigned last week citing what he termed Sunak’s “apathy” towards the environment, said this would “shred” the UK’s international reputation.