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By Andrew Tanner-Smith on 05/07/23

The Guardian, amongst others, are reporting that the UK government is considering dropping its flagship £11.6 billion climate pledge, to reduce the UK's carbon emissions to net zero by 2050. The pledge includes investment in renewable energy, electric vehicles, and energy-efficient buildings. However, there is fear stemming from budget constraints as a result of Brexit the pandemic and war in Ukraine that the pledge might be abandoned. The UK Treasury is reported to have estimated that in order to meet the £11.6bn target by 2026, it would have to spend 83% of the Foreign Office’s official development assistance budget on the international climate fund.

There will be a chorus of protests at this news from climate activists, politicians, climate scientists and climate thought leaders around the world to the very idea of the UK not abiding by its climate funding pledges. We have no hesitation in adding out voice to this chorus.

This is not the first time that the UK government has been accused of cutting back on its green commitments. In 2013, former Prime Minister David Cameron was reported to have said that he wanted to "cut the green crap" from energy bills.

If the UK government is serious about avoiding the worst impacts of climate change, it must prioritize its commitment to decarbonisation. Abandoning its funding pledges will have serious impacts on the country’s ability to meet its #netzero commitments. The UK is already falling short on its progress to meet its 2050 net-zero emissions target. If the 5th largest economy in the world doesn’t meet these targets, and indeed help developing countries also meet theirs we can forget about avoiding the worst effects of climate change we can see happening right now with extreme weather events, such as heat waves, droughts, floods, and storms now a common occurrence. As if to underscore the problem, June 2023 was the hottest June on record in the UK. It is likely that subsequent summer months will also break heat records. We can expect more of these record breaking summers if we continue to ignore the problem. Rolling back on its already far to meagre £11.6bn-backed climate funding pledge would make it more likely that these events will become more frequent and severe, which could have a devastating impact on people and communities.

To cut climate funding would have a serious detrimental impact on the UK’s recovering economy, The UK economy has been battered and bruised firstly, as the rest of the world’s economy has been, by the pandemic which stretched its internal resources and war in Ukraine which cut off supplies and raising fuel prices. These problems have been exacerbated in the UK by Brexit and woeful economic decisions by successive Conservative governments. The Green Economy is a growing sector, with the promise of over 1 million new jobs created by 2030. Again, as with the race to net zero, the UK is already lagging behind its peers. with the US committing $500Bn to its equivalent Inflation Reduction Act, focused on building new climate focused industries. The EU is projecting spend of €578Bn on climate related projects between 2021 and 2027. India has set aside €2.18bn in 2023 alone for developing its climate change related industrial base.

Rolling back on its funding pledges is also huge credibility issue for the UK. From chairing and hosting GOP26, to being one of the first major industrialised countries in the world to enshrine its net zero target in law, been praised for its climate leadership and ambition. Even the threat of reneging on the pledges it has already made to honour its pledges damages this leadership image. Not only does it make the UK look untrustworthy on the global stage, it undermines any influence ethe country can have in encouraging other nations to countries to agree to and meet their obligations.

To say we would be “disappointed” at this news would be an understatement. Surprised? No. We would have much preferred the funding levels to be moving the opposite direction. Whilst being doubled in 2019 from £5.8bn, this spending would be over a 5-year period. We would have rather seen a much more significant sum than £11bn spend on an annual basis.

Lord Goldsmith’s suggested on leaving his governmental role in June 2023 that the UK Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, is simply uninterested in climate change. Right now we would find it very difficult to argue with this suggestion.