Daily Telegraph on climate aid: New headline, same old figures

  • 05 Dec 2012, 14:30
  • Robin Webster and Christian Hunt

" £2bn of UK aid to help Third World go green" reads the Daily Telegraph front page headine today. But is the money it's talking about new?

The Telegraph writes:

"Britain last night pledged to spend almost £2 billion of taxpayer money to help poor countries tackle climate change, including wind turbines in Africa and greener cattle farming in Columbia".

"Each household will contribute £70 to schemes to tackle climate change in developing countries before March 2015."

Apparently, Tory MPs are "dismayed" and "furious" at the timing of the announcement, whereas Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg has hailed it as "fantastic news".

You might be forgiven for thinking that that this story is based on the announcement of new monies for climate finance from the UK. But as far as we can see, there is no new money.

New projects, but not new funding

At the international climate talks in Doha yesterday, energy and climate change minister Ed Davey announced a UK government commitment to funding "new climate programmes" in Africa, South America and countries vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

This includes £149.5 million of funding for a variety of projects - renewable energy generation in Africa, increased access to water for drinking, sanitation and irrigation in poorer countries and projects to improve degraded grazing land in Columbia.

Does this indicate an increase in climate aid from the UK?

No, according to the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC), which told us that none of the amounts the Telegraph is talking about are newly announced funding:

"It's not additional - it's part of the £2.9 billion already announced. It's an allocation of already existing funds."

In other words, the details of the projects are new, but the money is not.

UK international climate funding

The UK is providing money to help poorer countries address climate change.

In 2009, the UK committed to providing £1.5 billion between 2010 and 2012 to help developing countries respond to climate change under what was known as the Fast Start Finance Initiative. The money was to "[support] the World's poorest to adapt to climate change and [promote] cleaner, greener growth".

The UK then committed to providing £2.9 billion of aid between April 2011 and March 2012 through a new initiative - the International Climate Fund (ICF).

The two funding streams overlapped somewhat - DECC told us that as of today the UK has spent £1.5 billion of the total funds, and has £1.8 billion left to spend. So it appears to us that a total of £3.3 billion has been earmarked for helping developing countries respond to climate change between 2010 and 2015.

The Telegraph's report

So the Telegraph is quite correct to say that the UK has committed a remaining £1.8 billion - or "almost £2 billion" to international climate finance in the years leading up to 2015.

But it is not correct to suggest that Britain pledged the money last night. It was promised more than eighteen months ago - in fact the Telegraph has already reported on it last November.

Will this cost every household £70 as the Telegraph claims? Analysis by the development NGO Tearfund shows the Telegraph appear to have calculated this figure by dividing £1.8 billion by the number of households in the UK - 26.3 million.

Tearfund point out that the money comes from the overseas aid budget, and forms part of the government's pre-existing commitment to giving 0.7 per cent of the UK's income to overseas development aid. That means the money is coming from general taxation.

So dividing the total cost by households might not be a very sensible approach. This isn't money that's being levied on energy bills - for example - where dividing by the number of households might produce safer results.

So as far as we can tell the UK government didn't allocate any new money to international climate financing yesterday. But it did reiterate its already existing commitments, and allocate some of the funding already promised to specific projects - and with Doha and the Autumn statement coinciding, that's apparently what makes a front page story.

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