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Failure on climate finance promises will be a betrayal

Ruth Valerio
July 21, 2023

As we approach the summer break here in the UK, extreme heatwaves and wildfires are overwhelming southern Europe, Asia and America, a signal that the climate crisis is impacting not only the poorest, least-equipped countries, but also wealthier places and people. It’s clear that the climate emergency is deepening, but there’s still so much we can do to turn things around.

It’s staggering that the UK Government is falling so far behind in its climate pledges at this crucial juncture. In June, the Climate Change Committee’s Annual Progress Report indicated a lack of resolve and urgency domestically. In early July, a leaked memo to the Guardian suggested the Government could now backtrack on delivering international climate finance. This week, the FCDO’s Annual Report outlines the severity of cuts to the foreign aid budget, to which climate finance should be a complementary, new and additional fund. If these were his A-Level results, Mr Sunak could be looking at a triple fail come August.

For many around the world, the compounding hazards of poverty, conflict, covid and the climate crises have been fatal. In many of the communities Tearfund works with, people have already endured decades of devastating loss of life, livelihoods and infrastructure.

The situation in Rawana, in Marsabit county in northern Kenya, reflects the crisis across East Africa, where 32 million have been in the throes of prolonged drought and hunger. The livestock that families depended on have perished, leaving mothers, children and the elderly with few options but to pick sharp stones from the dry ground to sell as ballast at the roadside. All are focused on survival. Tearfund’s church partners support communities with emergency cash to buy food in the harshest seasons, but the sad truth is that the pastoralist way of life in this region is no longer viable.

I heard how one 12-year-old girl fainted with hunger and collapsed in the unbearable heat. Tragically she fell into hot coals and suffered severe burning across her lower body and arms. With under-resourced medical facilities and the ambulance service out of action, it was a miracle that she survived her injuries. Now, despite the resolve and resilience of her community, with no livestock to sell for school fees, the only thing certain about her future is the hardship she will face. This is what the climate emergency looks like for so many people around the world, a gradual and painful worsening of suffering outside of the individuals’ control. It is a stark reminder of the lives and livelihoods being damaged or destroyed.

The UK can and must keep its promise to play its part in funding the vital mitigation and adaptation work that is required globally. Climate finance is not a handout, but a responsibility we owe to countries that we in the global north have made vulnerable to climate change.

The UK has shown leadership in the past. Yet, the government is at risk of failing to meet its commitments on climate finance, the fundamental enabling money to equip countries to mitigate and adapt. The scientific consensus is that this is a critical decade for climate action. Why is our government dragging its feet at the eleventh hour?

I want to be able to look my daughters in the eye and say: ‘We did everything within our power to keep within safe limits of warming’. Right now, saying that is a lie. Quote

With so much outside of our control, the saddest and hardest thing to accept is our collective failure to control the things that are still within our power to influence.

When wealthy and high carbon emitting nations fail to step up to their climate responsibilities, it hurts us all, but people in poverty suffer the most. Rishi Sunak still has time to stand by the UK government’s promise of £11.6bn in climate funding by 2026. Failing to keep this promise would be a miserly betrayal that will cost lives and livelihoods. It would also be a backwards step for international cooperation at a time when working together is more crucial than ever.

Cutting funding for reducing emissions and adapting to live with increased climate hazards is dangerously short-sighted and undermines global humanitarian efforts to save lives. Providing climate finance at a direct cost to other vital aid priorities is effectively a double spend of the same money.

I’m not a mathematician, but I know that even the simplest of equations will reveal that climate finance is a sound investment. The climate crisis is going to get far worse and be much more expensive to address if wealthy nations do not act now. The UK government needs to honour its commitments without delay or hesitation. After all, a promise is only as good as the government that keeps it.

Featured Image: credited to Louise Norton/CAFOD

Dr Ruth Valerio

Dr. Ruth Valerio is the Director of Advocacy and Influencing at Tearfund.

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