Skip to Content

UK Cuts to Climate Finance Would Fail the Poor and the Planet

12 July 2023


Father Leonard Chiti writes about the importance of the UK Government sticking to its commitment to spend £11.6bn on international climate finance.

Over the past few days, reports have emerged that the UK Government is considering reneging on its commitment to spend £11.6bn on international climate finance (ICF) by 20261. I plead with Ministers to change course, affirm unreservedly that this target will indeed still be met, and double down on the UK Government’s long-standing commitment to supporting the global effort to tackle climate change. Breaking this commitment would do serious damage to the UK’s reputation from where I write in Southern Africa, and across the world. 

As Pope Francis affirms in Laudato Si, we are not faced with two separate crises, one social and the other environmental, but one crisis with two faces. A break to this commitment would undermine progress on both: hurting the environment which requires financial investment to protect, and rendering the lives of millions on the frontlines of climate change even more vulnerable, without the much-needed cash that they need to build barricades against the climate tides which are coming. 

ICF helps countries to build post-carbon economies by investing in renewables. Many nations like my country of Zambia require extensive expansion of their energy network to lift people out of energy poverty and give light to the many millions who still live without electricity at home. What’s more, countries like Zambia have a relatively tiny carbon footprint now, and historically have contributed a minuscule amount of the greenhouse gasses which now clog up our atmosphere causing global warming. In recognition of these two facts, the UN Convention on climate change and the Paris Agreement affirm the need for the richest countries, the countries responsible for climate change, to share their wealth to make sure that countries like Zambia can grow these low carbon economies. If the Global North countries cannot be relied on to meet their commitments to ICF, what are governments like Zambia to do? If the North reneges on their commitments, what’s to stop them prioritising fossil fuel expansion instead of renewables? That would not serve people well now, and certainly not future generations. 

Father Chiti from Zambia
Countries like Zambia have a relatively tiny carbon footprint and historically have contributed a minuscule amount of the greenhouse gasses which now clog up our atmosphere causing global warming.

Father Leonard Chiti

ICF also provides crucial cash to help countries adapt to the impacts of climate change that they are already experiencing. This money is vital. This funding helps build flood defences, infrastructure that is resilient to the extreme heat and intensified storms that now besmirches much of the Global South, and helps farmers invest in climate resilience methods of farming to ensure food stocks flow no matter the weather. As climate impacts take hold across the world, this money is more vital than ever. Even at current levels of warming people are suffering, and this will only get worse even if we do manage to keep within the globally agreed 1.5C target. Surviving and thriving in a 1.5C world requires investment in adaptation, another reason that ICF is just so important. 

In the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), signed in 1992, countries across the world acknowledged that we are bound to respond to this crisis by the principle of Common But Differentiated Responsibilities and Respective Capabilities. This principle affirms, softly and diplomatically, the reality that some countries are more responsible than others for the climate crisis, and certainly that some have greater means than others to respond. In many ways, this principle is not too dissimilar from the principles that Catholic Social Teaching affirms should shape our political priorities and approaches. Informed by the gospels and church teaching in dialogue with the signs of the times, we are called to interpret what ought to happen in the world via such principles of solidarity, the common good, the preferential option for the poor and the notion of the universal destination of goods. Stripped down to the core, these principles recognise that all people all over the world are brothers and sisters, that God yearns for a world in which all can survive and thrive, and that if human-made society fails to deliver this, we must act to correct this failing.  

It is not always obvious how these principles should be applied in every day political decision making. But in this occasion, it appears very obvious indeed. Climate impacts are spiralling, and the poorest people in the world are suffering. The UK has agreed time and time again to act according to its responsibility and capability, and the delicate diplomatic process to tackle climate change relies on them continuing to meet this commitment. Reneging on this commitment would be bad politics, immoral, against the UK’s national interest, against the global interest and that of future generations. It must not happen. 

Fr Leonard Chiti is Jesuit Provincial for Southern Africa