UK must make climate change the cornerstone of international development policy or risk undermining wider aid spending, International Development Committee warns
The UK government must scrap aid for fossil fuel projects around the world and prioritise tackling climate change if it is to have a "meaningful" impact on the climate threats facing developing nations, a cross-party group of MPs has warned.
Parliament's International Development Committee (IDC) today called on the government to set an example internationally by overhauling the UK's current oversees aid policy, strategy, and funding to place tackling climate change front and centre.
Climate change is not just one of a number of issues the UK should address through aid spending, it argued, but "the single biggest threat to stability and wellbeing in some of the world's most vulnerable nations".
In a strongly worded response, newly appointed International Development Secretary immediately welcomed the report's over-arching conclusions.
"We are facing a climate cataclysm," he said. "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. The ice shelf is shrinking, oceans are rising and global carbon emissions are increasing. This is before we even count the cost on humans.
"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."
The committee said the UK's current commitment to spend £1.76bn annually on dedicated aid for climate-related activities should become the annual minimum. It also stressed that the UK should halt aid for fossil fuel projects "unless it demonstrably supports the transition to zero global emissions by 2050".
The report argued current aid policy is "incoherent", pointing to figures showing the UK provided £4.8bn to fossil fuel projects from 2010-16, compared to £4.9bn for the International Climate Fund between 2011-17.
It warned supporting the fossil fuel economy in developing nations damaged the effectiveness of the UK's approach to tackling climate change.
The Committee concluded that the imbalance in support for fossil fuels and clean technologies should be "rectified urgently" with consistent, joined-up policy across government to ensure aid spending supports climate resilience and the drive towards net zero emissions.
Failing to act would "nullify the effectiveness of wider aid spending", MPs on the Committee warned.
Committee chair, Labour MP Stephen Twigg said the UK must act urgently to reframe aid spending around climate efforts, describing the current climate crisis facing the world as "extreme".
"The UK should be in the vanguard of efforts to help prepare the world's poorest for the extreme consequences of climate change, and it must go hand-in-hand with current programmes to alleviate poverty," he said. "We need radical action that places climate change front and centre of all aid spending and policy decisions, and dedicated financing to give it teeth."
Dr Alison Doig, head of global policy at Christian Aid, echoed Twigg's sentiment. "Climate change is not just one issue on a list that UK aid needs to tackle, it cuts across everything," she said. "If not addressed, it threatens to unpick many of our recent international development gains. Any modern aid policy worth its salt needs to put tackling climate change at its heart."
Less than a week into his new role Stewart has already indicated climate action is set to be a cornerstone of his tenure at DfID. Speaking to the Sunday Times this week, he declared using aid spending to battle climate change was the "politically smart" approach to take given concern over the issue among younger voters.
A DfID spokesperson said: "We know we need to take urgent action on climate change. Tackling this is a priority for the UK government.
"The UK has supported 47 million people to cope with the effects of climate change, and helped people and businesses around the world avoid 10.4 million of tonnes of emissions - equivalent to taking over two million cars off the road. We are looking to become the first major economy to legislate on having net-zero emissions.
"We recognise we cannot do this alone and we are also working with other governments, the private sector and NGOs to tackle the causes and impacts of climate change so we can protect our planet for future generations."
The pressure on the government to bring all policy areas into line with its stated decarbonisation ambitions is intensifying, and it looks as if the new International Development Secretary, for one, is keen to respond.
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