Rollout of UK aid cuts threatens work on climate change

Budget reductions undermine the need for transformative diplomacy ahead of COP26

CARRO-YAAMBO, SOMALIA - JUNE 21: Somali women fill water cans tied to a donkey at a traditional cistern for harvesting rainwater, called a berkad, made by the Irish charity Concern-Worldwide as the Horn of Africa faces severe drought in Carro-Yaambo, a village 20 miles west of the capital Hargeisa, Somalia, on June 21, 2017. The United Nations and NGOs have sought to raise resilience in pastoralist communities that have seen their lifeblood herds of camels, goats and sheep decimated by up to 80 percent, leaving 6.7 million people in need of assistance to avoid famine in Somalia and Somaliland. (Photo by Scott Peterson/Getty Images)
Powered by automated translation

Campaigners have criticised the UK for cuts to its international development budget that hit 32 of the 45 countries most at risk from climate change.

Officials are due to detail the effects of the reduced aid on a country-by-country basis this week. The cuts come as the UK is gearing up to host the world's leading climate conference later this year.

This year’s COP26 will be held in Glasgow in November with the aim of accelerating action towards the goals laid out in the Paris Agreement and the Framework Convention on Climate Change. Members of Parliament have called on the government to place "transformative diplomacy" at the heart of its role in hosting the conference.

Save the Children said many countries would face potentially dire consequences after the slump in direct aid from the UK.

“As the host of COP26, the UK has a huge opportunity and responsibility to bring the world together behind a plan to tackle climate change and support the communities worst affected,” said the charity’s chief executive Kevin Watkins.

“Calling on other countries to do more while the UK does less is a dereliction of leadership.”

Cuts of more than 50 per cent in Britain's bilateral aid budget were implemented at the start of the year. The UK had committed to spending 0.7 per cent of its gross domestic product on foreign aid, a target met every year since 2013. However, late last year the government announced this would be cut to 0.5 per cent.

Save the Children estimated that about 673 million children live in the 32 countries directly affected by the proposed aid cuts. Five of those – Yemen, Syria, Libya, Sudan and Somalia – are from the Arab world and all endure ongoing armed conflict.

Worsening climate conditions are increasingly being linked to conflicts as the catastrophic effects of floods, droughts and other extreme weather events result in mass displacement, as well as food and water shortages and disease.

Syria faced its worst drought on record a few years before protests erupted in 2011 and sparked a decades-long war. In Somalia, drought is fuelling ongoing conflict as people are driven into cities, refugee camps or towards militant groups. Yemen, a country with little arable land, has been so devastated by the twin effects of climate change and conflict that more than two million children are suffering from acute malnourishment, the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification says.

Save the Children said the UK's aid for basic child nutrition and food assistance in Yemen is set to fall by £36 million ($49.8m) – or 12 per cent. Last month, the government announced that it would reduce its overall Yemen aid package by 60 per cent to £87 million from £214 million. Aid to Syria may be cut by 67 per cent and Libya by 63 per cent, suggest figures leaked to openDemocracy, a UK-based political website. In Sub-Saharan Africa, Britain's aid contribution would be almost wiped out – with a cut of 93 per cent being considered.

Mr Watkins warned that children were increasingly on the front line of the climate crisis, adding that the world’s response would decide the fate of millions of children today as well as future generations.