climate change – Tearfund's Policy Blog

April 9, 2013 By Rosanne White

I was born in 1985. It was the year that Eastenders first graced our screens, the first mobile phone call was made and 13-year old Ruth Lawrence achieved a first in mathematics at Oxford, the youngest British person to ever get such a degree or graduate from the university.

It was also a year of rioting; with three million unemployed, a riot broke out in Brixton after an accidental shooting of a woman by the police. One person died, 50 were injured, countless were arrested.

And it was the year of Live Aid and the launch of Comic Relief.

One woman dominated the headlines when I was growing up. With remarkably coiffed hair and neat suits, she stood up in the House of Commons every week and took on the opposition at a time when very few women, even fewer mothers, could ever consider standing as a local Councillor, let alone an MP. Despite this seemingly miraculous turn of events, my mother wasn’t a fan – she was devastated at the death of David Penhaligon in 1986, later taking me to a rally when the leader of the newly formed Liberal Democrats, Paddy Ashdown, visited our little Somerset town.

With the news of her death, doubtless the media will now be given over these next few days to reflections on Baroness Thatcher’s life. We’ll learn more about her than we ever knew. We’ll be played old newsreels of her most fiery political exchanges, of Meryl Streep’s attempt to channel her energy. The left and right will fling Iron Lady-loaded grenades at each other across the parapets of Fleet Street and twitter and tumblr will be flooded with increasingly uncomfortable parodies.

But for me, the most surprising thing to note about Baroness Thatcher, (or Mrs Thatcher as she was then), was that she was one of the first western leaders to make her concerns clear about climate change. At the Second World Climate Conference she said this:

“Our ability to come together to stop or limit damage to the world’s environment will be perhaps the greatest test of how far we can act as a world community. No-one should under-estimate the imagination that will be required, nor the scientific effort, nor the unprecedented co-operation we shall have to show. We shall need statesmanship of a rare order.”

Barnstorming stuff. And she didn’t stop there. Later, she said:

“It would be absurd to adopt policies which would bankrupt the industrial nations, or doom the poorer countries to increasing poverty. We have to recognise the widely differing circumstances facing individual countries, with the better-off assisting the poorer ones”.

Margaret Thatcher gave that speech on November 6th 1990 (if you’re not keeping up, I was just five years old). Now on my way to 30, and the UN climate talks heading into their 19th summit in December, I’m terribly sad that developed nations are still dancing around the issue of how to finance climate change adaptation for the poorest countries.

Back in 2011, world leaders sat down together and set themselves a deadline to come up with a legally binding agreement on climate change by 2015, including agreement on ways to fund climate change adaptation. In 2013, they are still a long way from achieving this, despite there being a number of options available, including a shipping levy, for raising the $100bn a year desperately needed by 2020.

2013 is the year for the UK to step up. We’ll be hosting the G8 summit of world leaders as well as a special Food and Hunger Summit which will hopefully address the root causes of poverty which mean that one in eight people go to bed hungry every night. What’s more, the Prime Minister is playing a lead role as the co-Chair of the panel advising the UN Secretary-General on the follow-up to the Millennium Development Goals. All opportunities to show real leadership on a global scale, to recognise the impact that climate change is having and will continue to have on the world’s poorest people if we fail to act. Whatever you think of her transformative and often destructive social and economic policy (and believe me when I say my opinions are strong), Mrs Thatcher recognised this. She recognised this 23 years ago.

Which leads me back to my childhood. Despite being born in the eighties, I really don’t consider myself to be one of Thatcher’s children. Instead, I guess I’m more of a Live Aid child – I’ve been brought up knowing about the significance of the Government’s commitment to deliver 0.7% GNI as lifesaving aid and been frustrated time and time again when it hasn’t been honoured. I still can’t quite believe it’s finally going to happen now. Then last week came the news that world leaders have struck a deal on a global arms trade treaty, an historic moment that as a child I never believed would come.

So it just goes to show that change can happen. I honestly believe that we can come up with a fair deal on climate change, one that benefits the world’s poorest people and makes sure that they can adapt to the onslaught of extreme weather. Right now, it just needs political will and a catalyst. Something I imagine Mrs Thatcher knew at least a little about.

March 27, 2013 By Sara Shaw

At the international climate talks in 2009 in Copenhagen, developed countries promised that by 2020 they would mobilise $100 billion a year for climate change mitigation and adaptation in developing countries. This is not enough to meet the needs of developing countries. But progress to date on concrete ways to generate even this money has been excruciatingly slow.

Overstretched aid budgets are already providing the bulk of climate finance, to the potential detriment of areas such as education and health. And after an initial flurry of activity the amount of public climate finance from aid budgets appears to be falling. Little progress has been made on developing innovative public sources of finance, such as raising finance from international transport.

The UK government is at the forefront of a move to champion the private sector as a solution that will plug this gap in international climate finance.

But Tearfund’s research  suggests that private finance lends itself more naturally to funding mitigation in developing countries rather than adaptation. ODI recently compiled data around 73 climate finance investment initiatives totalling $8.5 billion by the UK, Japan, Germany and the US between 2010 and 2012 aimed at mobilising private climate finance. Of these investments more than 99 per cent went to mitigation projects and there was virtually no direct investment involving the private sector that targeted adaptation to climate change. Eighty-four per cent of investment flowed to middle-income countries.

Evidence for private sector engagement with adaptation is minimal, and what little there is indicates serious problems in relying on private finance to deliver adaptation for the poorest communities. The underlying need for companies to make a profit in a low-risk investment environment means that Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and other low-income countries are unlikely to benefit from investment as any returns would be low and slow. Adaptation generates tangible benefits for people and communities but, in contrast to mitigation, it may not produce significant monetary gains for investors. And if current FDI flows are anything to go by money is likely to flow to sectors that will not bring adaptation benefits. Questions also arise as to how private sector engagement will support a fully integrated approach to adaptation.

It seems to be a bit old fashioned to say it these days but rich countries bear overwhelming responsibility for causing climate change and its impacts in developing countries – and so are responsible for paying adaptation costs and ensuring that adaptation reaches the poorest and most vulnerable. Governments shouldn’t be relying on private finance to meet the adaptation needs of the poorest communities and countries – it just won’t work.

Read the full report here.

January 3, 2013 By Sarah Hulme – Food Security Policy Advisor

Happy New Year!  Enough time off – now back to work.  To mark the start of 2013 we’ve made some changes to Just Policy, so that it’s easier for you to follow the items you’re interested in.

If you’d like to receive all blog posts, then please follow us by email (sign up in the box to the right).

If you’d only like to receive blog posts only on a particular topic(s), then please sign up to the relevant RSS feed on the right.  [See here for a brilliant explanation of what RSS is, and why it’s useful – h/t Owen Barder.]  Our current topics are as follows:

  • Aid
  • Beyond 2015
  • Conflict and Security
  • Environment and Disasters
  • Faith Based Organisations
  • Food Security
  • Governance and Corruption
  • Water and Sanitation
  • Uncategorised

For the most part, our regular authors are also on twitter.  If you’re interested in following us, our twitter handles are as follows:

1LauraTaylor,  (cross-cutting)

RichardJWeaver, (environment)

sueyardley, (water and sanitation)

GrahamGordon4, (governance and corruption)

TFSamB, (politics)

JKfoodie, (food security)

steffygill, (water and sanitation)

Climatemouse, (environment)

MelissaLawson3, (governance and corruption)

RosanneWhite23 (politics)

And myself, at 1SarahHulme (food security)

You’ll also find mini profiles of each author to the right (click on the photo squares), which will tell you a bit more about who we are.  At the top of each blog post you will find who posted that blog, and what their speciality is.

We’re trialling this, so please do comment below with any bugs/kinks you find – and of course any other suggestions you’ve got!

December 5, 2012 By Sara Shaw

…though not the one we would have dreamed of. You got the feeling a different, and dare I say better, report got hijacked and turned into a tirade against aid and wind farms.

So let’s focus on a few of the facts quoted in the story:

1.      Britain has pledged almost £2billion in taxpayers money to tackle climate change in developing countries – this means each household will pay the equivalent of £70

The £1.8 billion in climate finance pledged for 2013-2015 is not new money – the figures are complicated but it’s been announced before, just framed in a slightly different way. The reason why NGOs jumped up and down is that we are desperate to use the UK’s leadership on this issue to encourage other developed countries to come forward at the Doha climate talks and pledge their share of international climate finance. That’s another commitment we developed countries including the UK have already made – to mobilise $100billion a year for climate action in developing countries from 2020.

And this money comes directly from the overseas aid budget which is already committed – Conservative, Labour and Lib Dem policy is to increase ODA to 0.7% of GNI – this money is within that commitment – so we aren’t talking suddenly about new money to come out of household bills.

As such, it comes from tax, not some spurious household budget, and is the equivalent of 0.2 pence in the basic rate of income tax. For the average earner, this pledge amounts to about £3.60 a year – but remember, this is not new tax, it is tax already earmarked (calculations below).

Incidentally, we are calling on the Government to find new sources of money for climate finance so that they don’t have to keep raiding already stretched budgets. For example, unlike for domestic businesses, there is currently no emissions levy on international shipping. Bill Gates has suggested in a report to G20 ministers that this is a plausible source.

2.      Wind farms are all but useless and nobody wants them in England let alone in Africa.

For a start this is certainly not £1.8 billion for wind farms in Africa. Half is finance for various forms of clean energy and to address deforestation, and half to help people adapt to the effects of changing weather patterns which we’ve caused by our excessive carbon emissions.

A recent poll found that actually people ‘in England’ do want more wind farms. The Fabian Society and WWF commissioned poll found that 57% of the public and 53% of Tory voters said the UK should commit to generating most of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030 with just 10% opposing the idea. And a ComRes poll in June found overall 68% of people favoured more wind farms – with 58% of Conservatives in favour.

And wind farms are far from useless – a recent report by IPPR and renewable energy consultancy, GL Garrad Hassan (owned by GL Group which has interests in the oil and gas sectors) found that wind was a reliable source and power and that it reduced the UK’s CO2 emissions.

The report found that in 2011, wind turbines in the UK saved a minimum of 5.5 million tonnes of CO2 (if gas was displaced) and a maximum of over 12 million tonnes (if coal was displaced).Offshore wind is capable of providing  up to 45 per cent of the UK’s total electricity needs in 2030 (Climate Change Committee 2011)) – and the Carbon Trust estimates it could contribute £3–10 billion annually to the economy between 2010 and 2050 (Carbon Trust 2011).

And the Renewable Energy Association (REA) and RenewableUK believes wind power could create 76,000 jobs by 2021 and deliver nearly £700,000 value for each megawatt of onshore wind capacity installed.

Furthermore, the IPPR report concludes that while renewable energy subsidies do add to energy bills, from 2004 to 2010, government support for renewables added £30 to the average energy bill while rises in the wholesale cost of gas added £290.

Wind turbines may or may not be the best form of energy in all developing countries – say solar or geothermal might be more appropriate. But the developing world needs our climate finance – the poorest communities are being hit now by climate change. And we promised to provide it. Lets not break that promise.

 (1)  How we did our maths – thanks/blame for my colleague Sam!

–         The Telegraph call a 1.8 billion spend “£2 billion”  – good to know that £200 million of taxpayers money is just rounding for the Telegraph (as they criticise a £100million project).

–         Their claim is ‘it will cost every household in the UK £70’: calculated by dividing £1.8bn by 26.3million households in the UK (=£68.44)

–         This money comes out of general taxation (the DFID budget)

–         This money is amortised over at two years (2013-14, 2014-15– i.e. £900million a year.

–         (Back of an envelope calculation) As the Telegraph has pointed out, a penny on the basic rate of income tax is worth £4.4billion a year. Therefore this spend costs approximately 0.2p (4.4/.9= 4.8) in the penny of the basic rate of tax. In 2009, mean  gross incomes were around £26,000, median around £20,000 (BBC 2009 report). Total tax on a mean income at 20%, less a rough threshold of £8,000 is £1,800, so this makes up around £3.60 of the average taxpayer’s total tax contribution a year.

–         Someone else might want to explore the actual taxpayer cost (Income tax, Capital Gains Tax and National insurance only makes up 55% of treasury tax receipts (and treasury income is supplemented by loans, so this percentage falls in terms of contribution to public spending); and of course taxation is progressive, with higher earners paying proportionately more, so the burden is even more equitably distributed. 

November 28, 2012 By Sara Shaw

Never has urgent climate action at the international level been so urgent. Never has it appeared so unlikely. Never has the gap between the compelling science, the impacts on the ground, the dire predictions for the future – and the apathy and indifference of the majority of northern leaders and public been so enormous.

The climate talks open in Qatar

As the Doha climate talks opened earlier this week, for the first time since COP9 in Argentina in 2005 Tearfund haven’t sent anyone. And I have really mixed emotions about this – we have always sent a team of lobbyists, campaigners and southern partners to lobby and bear witness to climate impacts in the developing world. Not sending anyone at all feels like a real end of an era (though it’s always possible we’ll be back next year – typically just when the COP moves away from sunny climes to chilly Poland).

There are good strategic reasons for our absence – we’re focusing our efforts on shifting the tide in countries like Brazil, India and the US, where we have particular routes for influence. We’re trying to use our limited resources effectively to help create some of the conditions to get a global deal. And, interestingly, one of our partners from India, is going to the talks independently of Tearfund. We haven’t abandoned the process altogether, we’re just sitting out this round of actual talks.

The problem is the things we really need from the talks – at the most basic level – increased action to drastically cut emissions and increased finance for developing country adaptation and clean development just aren’t on offer this year. And the big decisions about the money and the cuts are made in capitals, not in the negotiating rooms. I want the big decisions to be made in Doha because I am desperately worried that time is running out to curb dangerous climate change and we need a global deal urgently, but my wanting them to be made there doesn’t make it any more likely.

In my recent blog on the international talks I mused on whether the talks are just totally broken now because we are in a new era where that kind of top down international process doesn’t work anymore at all (a question to which I don’t know the answer). This history of the negotiations in 83 seconds illustrates just how hard things are.

But I’m longing for that theory to be proved wrong. I’m longing to be surprised by hope over the next few weeks. I’m longing for the solidarity, passion and commitment of civil society and poor communities to cut through the procrastination, manoeuvring, the lack of political will and lack of moral courage that characterises many countries’ behaviour at the talks and in capitals. I’m longing for leaders to be convicted of the need to act on climate and to go beyond negotiating games. I am hoping that Doha will genuinely move discussions forward towards an ambitious 2015 deal. I am hoping for this because the alternatives are dire. Poor communities are being hit hard by climate change now, lives and livelihoods are being lost now. The urgency has never been greater.

October 4, 2012 By Sara Shaw

As a coda to my piece on my frustrations with climate change media coverage  I was as good as my word and complained to the BBC last week when I heard (not for the first time) a Today programme presenter being dismissive about whether climate change was or wasn’t happening.

I received a response stating:

In general, the BBC is committed to impartial and balanced coverage when it comes to this issue. There is broad scientific agreement on the issue of climate change and we reflect this accordingly; however, we do aim to ensure that we also offer time to the dissenting voices.

Flagship BBC programmes such as Newsnight, Today and our network news bulletins on BBC One have all included contributions from those who challenge the general scientific consensus recently and we will continue to offer time to such views on occasion.

So, essentially the BBC accepts the scientific consensus (remember, that’s 97% of climate scientists) but thinks its ok to regularly broadcast those who oppose it. Really? That’s pretty astounding and pretty irresponsible. I made my complaint to the BBC on the basis of standards of journalism, not bias. Reporters should not be randomly questioning accepted science when they are not qualified to do so. And I really don’t want to hear non-experts who don’t understand the science pitted against each other in bizarre and nonsensical debates (for example this rather embarrassing effort with two non-scientists brought on to talk about arctic sea ice shrinkage on Newsnight).

In general the BBC’s coverage on climate can be quite good, but it’s really let down by incidents such as these. This isn’t about censorship or stifling debate, it’s about ensuring accurate coverage of evidence by those who are qualified to do it. I’m not suggesting climate scientists shouldn’t be subject to scrutiny and rigour, but allowing non-experts to make inaccurate and misleading claims and giving them the same weight as experts standing on a whole body of peer reviewed science is somewhat farcical.

A review of BBC reporting on science reached a similar conclusions stating: Programme makers must make a distinction between well-established fact and opinion in science coverage and ensure the distinction is clear to the audience.

The BBC also sent me a link to this blog  which confusingly defends the scientific consensus, then says the BBC, and Newsnight in particular, should be standing against ‘group think’ and thus also broadcasting dissent.

It states that the BBC’s job is not to save the planet. I don’t agree, but even so surely it is not the BBC’s job to help fuel the destruction of the planet by broadcasting factual inaccuracy that contributes to public misunderstanding about climate change. That’s not public service broadcasting.

Finally, my apologies for not posting on UK climate policy as promised – will do so when I’m back in the office in a few weeks time.

September 27, 2012 By Sara Shaw

A few weeks ago I returned to work as a Policy Adviser on Climate Change after 14 months out of action, having had my first child. While I was pretty strict about not working while I was off, I am too much of a climate geek to stay away completely and did avidly follow developments (or the lack of them) in the climate world via news and social media. (As an aside, who knew how critical smartphones and IPads could be in enabling new mothers to stay in touch with news and politics? A few years ago I would have been condemned to hours of rubbish daytime telly whilst feeding my son, and I felt profoundly grateful for the technology that allowed me to stay in touch and vaguely keep my brain moving.)

So here a few thoughts from me (in 3 parts) about where we are as a climate community from someone who has been, over the past year, an interested observer rather than an active participant. Let’s be honest, I may have got the wrong end of the stick on some stuff in which case, I’m sorry…

Climate change is off the radar for those outside the climate bubble

Somehow we have got to re-win the argument in the public sphere that climate change is unequivocally happening. I can’t believe we ever lost this one. The media is so schizophrenic about climate change now that it’s no wonder people don’t know what to think. And, having mixed with a range of people outside the climate and development world over the last year, I would say most people aren’t thinking about climate at all.

Given the enormous, overwhelming evidence of climate impacts and rock solid science I am amazed that some journalists are loath even to mention climate change. I am astounded to still hear sterile debates about whether climate change is happening; or reports treating it as a slightly ludicrous unproven theory. There are some excellent reporters (Richard Black you will be much missed) but overall, balanced reporting about the real issues –adaptation to inevitable impacts, financing a clean energy revolution and the need to stop propping up fossil fuel industries- is scarce and often found where only those on the left or policy geeks will find it.

I’ve seen a great report on climate impacts jammed up alongside a report on oil drilling that totally ignores climate change. I’ve heard scientists berated and treated with mild contempt. An NGO does a brilliant exposé on how climate sceptic think tanks are funded by fossil fuel industries and it gets a brief piece in the Guardian and online news wires and then disappears. So infuriating in the light of how long and sustained the damage around the leaked UEA emails was for climate science.

Its not just hostility, it’s also the fact that you just don’t hear or see much reported on climate change at all. When I was deep in the heart of the climate community I lived and breathed it, and information and articles were constantly circulating. Outside the email lists in the world of being a mum living near London there was just hardly anything getting through mainstream media – you honestly would not think we were facing the climate crisis of all climate crises where millions will die or be displaced, where economies will collapse and nothing will ever be the same again.

Believe me, the climate message is in no way getting through to the average person in the UK. We must act as a community to change this or our policy context will only deteriorate further.

At some point as a community we shut our ears to scepticism and bunkered down as if it would all go away, but it has only got worse. While many organisations (Greenpeace for one) have courageously and tirelessly worked to expose sceptics and deniers, I don’t think we have pulled together enough as a development and climate community to challenge the state of affairs.

I have often found it so hard and depressing that I have switched off the radio, not looked at vicious and rabid comments at the bottom of an article and avoided papers that don’t hold a pro-climate views. When actually I should be ringing the BBC every time they broadcast something anti-climate (because you can bet that deniers do every time something pro-climate is on). I should be taking a deep breath and bothering to comment on articles and blogs – not exhaustively and not getting into crazy tit-for-tat discussions, but at the least giving an indication that there is another view and standing with others who are courageous enough to engage already. Its time, for me at least, to face some of this stuff head on.

Next time I’ll post something on the UK political context for climate action…