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UK promises £3bn for green tech amid climate cash disagreements

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On the opening day of the COP26 summit, which is hosted by the UK in Glasgow, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has emphasised the importance of providing climate finance to the developing world. The UK’s contribution, which has attracted its own share of criticism, will include £3bn to fund green technology and infrastructure.

Britain will provide £3bn over five years, specifically to support the roll-out of sustainable infrastructure and new green technologies for the Global South, such as for drought-resistant agriculture. The £3bn includes support for a new £200m Climate Innovation Facility.

According to the UK government, the scheme represents a “doubling” of UK support for climate projects compared with the previous five-year period.

“I want to see the UK’s green industrial revolution go global,” said Johnson, as he opened the conference. “The pace of change on clean technology and infrastructure is incredible, but no country should be left behind in the race to save our planet.”

“The climate has often been a silent victim of economic growth and progress, but the opposite should now be true. Through the clean green initiative, we can help to build back better and greener from the pandemic and put the world on the path to a more sustainable future.”

The announcement is unlikely to overturn pessimism regarding the state of climate finance at COP26. Although many high-income nations are now leading decarbonisation efforts, they have a legacy of disproportionately high contributions to CO2 emissions. For instance, the US has contributed approximately 25 per cent of all CO2 emissions while Africa contributed three per cent.

Financial support from the world’s wealthiest economies is considered the foundation of a just climate plan. In 2009, wealthy nations agreed to provide $100bn every year to aid decarbonisation in the Global South, and in 2015, agreed to extend this goal through to 2025. The run-up to COP26 has been marred by disagreement over the failure to meet the $100bn target, among other differences. The UN estimates that vulnerable countries will need up to $300bn per year by 2030 for climate adaptation alone.

The UK government laid out an alternative climate finance plan last week, which aims to instead reach the target by 2023.

The Alliance of Small Island States said in a statement: “The impact this has had on trust cannot be underestimated.”

Former president of the Maldives Mohamed Nasheed said: “To provide confidence and momentum going into COP26, the $100bn climate finance goal must be met immediately, not in 2023. The financing announcement is extremely disappointing in that it asks us as developing countries to wait even longer for the delivery of a promise that was first made more than a decade ago […] this is not sufficient to lay the groundwork for a successful outcome at COP26.”

The willingness of world leaders to spend vast amounts of money and to take drastic measures in the face of emergency during the coronavirus pandemic has raised questions about why they are not willing to do similar with regards to climate change. $100bn is a small fraction of the $14.6tn that the World Economic Forum estimates major economies mobilised in 2020 in response to the pandemic.

The Financial Times has noted that the UK’s extra £1bn pledged towards this particular goal (taking the total UK contribution to £12.6bn) is conditional on the national economy growing as forecast. This adds controversy to an already thorny issue; funds previously pledged by the UK come from its existing aid budget (which has been slashed overall) contrary to a UN agreement that the funds should be “new and additional”.

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