Prime Minister Boris Johnson is to call on G7 leaders to back an ambitious new plan to fund low carbon infrastructure and nature-based projects in developing countries, modelled on the post-war Marshall Plan which helped rebuild Europe in the wake of World War Two.
The Times reported this morning that the UK government is working on plans for a “clean green initiative”, which the Prime Minister hopes to present to his fellow G7 leaders at this week’s Summit in Cornwall having already discussed the idea with US President Joe Biden.
Johnson is understood to have instructed the Foreign Office, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, and the Treasury to develop a range of ideas to put to world leaders in Cornwall that could help deliver on the Paris Agreement pledge to mobilise at least $100bn a year of climate funding for poorer nations and thus boost the chances of a successful deal at this autumn’s COP26 Climate Summit in Glasgow.
Developing nations have repeatedly warned that the high profile climate talks could end in deadlock unless richer countries do more to deliver the $100bn target, which remains one of the cornerstones of the Paris Agreement.
As such, the UK government is said to be working on plans for a new multibillion-pound green development bank that could both directly fund low carbon infrastructure projects across Asia, Africa, and South America, and underwrite private investment.
“One of the key things is to de-risk these projects for investors,” one Whitehall source told The Times. “At the moment there is a pipeline of projects but countries are struggling to finance them. If the West underwrote that risk you’d be in a position to unlock some very serious investment.”
The hope is that the G7 Summit could back the plan in principle, with the details then finalised before COP26 in November.
However, observers warned that without serious funding commitments the proposals could quickly prove counter-productive.
The Times reported that the Treasury is reluctant to approve any new funding commitments before this autumn’s Spending Review. Meanwhile, the government is this week facing fierce criticism over its attempts to call on other G7 countries to increase climate funding commitments at the same time as it is cutting its own Overseas Development Aid (ODA) budget in a breach of its own manifesto commitments.
One government source told the paper that that unless Johnson overruled Chancellor Rishi Sunak there was a risk that the initiative would prove counterproductive. “The critical factor at COP26 is going to be to get the so-called global south to put pressure on middle-income countries such as India, China and Brazil and not allow them to slow the process of reaching global net zero,” they said. “To do that, the West needs to come up with a meaningful package of support that includes some pretty serious amounts of money. Repurposing some existing development aid simply isn’t going to cut it.”
There are also concerns that without a serious uptick in climate funding, the G7 nations risk being outmanoeuvred by the Chinese government, which has made the funding of low carbon infrastructure in developing nations a key plank of its high profile belt and road strategy.
“The government is going to need to put its money where its mouth is,” another source told The Times. “Clearly existing development funding channels would not in any way present a significant alternative to a Chinese government arriving with a financed energy project as an offer… If there is no new money this will look like a very hollow piece of politics and could be counterproductive in terms of getting an ambitious agreement at COP26.”
The comments were echoed by leading observers of the UN climate talks speaking yesterday at a briefing hosted by the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit.
Graça Machel, deputy chair of the Elders, warned that more than 10 years after the initial $100bn a year funding promise was made at the Copenhagen Summit “we are still sitting here talking about the need to meet it”.
“And 10 years later, the impacts of climate change have increased tremendously, investment is declining, aid is being cut, and the devastating ramifications of COVID-19 are exacerbating inequalities across the globe,” he added. “It is not too much to ask for the G7 to meet its obligations and take up its responsibilities towards the Global South.”
Rachel Kyte, Dean of The Fletcher School at Tufts University, said that while last week’s meeting of G7 Finance Ministers had delivered fresh support for mandatory climate risk reporting and a new crackdown on corporate tax avoidance it had “punted the critical questions” on climate funding on to this week’s Leaders’ Summit.
“It was almost as if the Finance Ministers were talking to somebody else about what needs to happen – yet it is them,” she said. “So the question that I really think for the Leaders’ Summit is: if not the G7 then who, and if not now, then when?”
Similarly, Peter Betts, the former lead negotiator for the EU at UN climate talks and now an associate fellow at Chatham House, warned that the government’s controversial ODA cuts could undermine its negotiating position in the run up to COP26.
“The voice of vulnerable countries is really important at COPs,” he explained. “The UK, as the Presidency, will need their help, support and trust. If it doesn’t have that it is going to be much harder to pull this COP off as a success… I fear [the ODA cut] is eroding and undermining the UK’s credibility to push others to do more to cut their emissions and to increase their climate finance.”
In related news, the government today announced a successful meeting of G7 Environment and Climate Ministers had secured a further boost to the UK co-led ’30by30′ initiative, which aims to ensure 30 per cent of the world’s land and oceans are protected for nature by 2030.
The government said that 80 countries were now backing the Global Ocean Alliance and the High Ambition Coalition for Nature and People, which aim to protect at least 30 per cent of the global ocean by 2030.
Defra also marked World Ocean Day by confirming plans for a new pilot scheme to designate marine sites in England as ‘Highly Protected Marine Areas’ (HPMAs), which would ban all activities that could have a damaging effect on wildlife or marine habitats.
“The UK is a global leader in marine protection, and we are leading the way internationally to deliver healthy and sustainable seas,” said Environment Secretary George Eustice. “We must strike a balance in supporting sustainable industries while increasing protections for our seas to ensure a healthy, resilient and diverse marine ecosystem and we will work with others as we develop future protections.”
The launch of the new pilot scheme was welcomed by Joan Edwards, director of policy and public affairs at The Wildlife Trusts, who said that the new type of marine protection being pioneered by the UK would establish a “gold standard for rewilding parts of the sea”.
“It’s a fantastic step-forward, one which The Wildlife Trusts and over 10,000 of our supporters have been waiting for – we’re absolutely delighted,” she said. “The removal of all harmful activities – from fishing and trawling to construction – has never been attempted in UK waters before. This is an historic moment and we’re certain that HPMAs will help our seas become healthier and that degraded underwater habitats will be better able to recover.”