Sara Shaw – Tearfund's Policy Blog

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.

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 24, 2012 By Sara Shaw

2011 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP17), Durban, South Africa

So the lesson I’ve learned recently is that you really shouldn’t take two months to post blogs you wrote when fresh back at work after maternity leave. I was going to post on the UK domestic scene and the lack of cohesive action by environment and development groups but events bypassed me – with the brilliant Green is Working stunt and tube ads last week.

So I’ve abandoned that blog. Here instead, are some ruminations on the international climate process. Frankly, after this, I’ll have to give up any pretence of being newly back on the scene…

There is serious international stalemate in the international climate talks, and in most multilateral processes and it is really hard to see how to break it.

This is stating the obvious. What shocks me is how far backwards things have drifted over the past year. National government positions that would have been totally intolerable to the NGO community are now accepted as fact. We have become a lot more pragmatic, and, in some areas lost our sense of outrage and fight. I can totally understand this – what is the alternative? Do we give up on trying to make a bad situation better? Do we become complete outsiders to the process? If we stop trying to influence the creaking wheels of the international climate process what do we usefully do instead?

While the continued commitment and energy of colleagues working in Climate Action Network International  and other networks amaze me, looking at things from the outside it seems hard to see where things are going.

Recently the Center for Global Development’s William Savedoff (his paper is helpfully summarized on From Poverty to Power ) challenged the assumptions of many NGOs that stable global governance institutions such as the UN, World Bank, IMF etc are the norm. Savedoff’s research argues that the post 1945 consensus with its US and European dominance was anomalous, and that a more fluid ‘multipolarity’ of ‘mixed coalitions’ of the willing, including non-state actors is actually how international relations normally work. This is problematic for climate change because it requires, as Duncan Green puts in his blog, ‘something much more coercive and self-sacrificing from national governments and economies’.

In the run up to Copenhagen we closed our eyes and hoped that the momentum towards a global deal would be enough to defy some of these political realities, but in fact they defined the unravelling of the talks, and their subsequent deterioration into endless agreements to agree something relatively weak at some point in the future.

Rich countries that have caused climate change are the main blockage in any progress in these talks – their refusal to accept their historic responsibility and decarbonise, or truly pay what is owed for developing countries to develop sustainably and adapt, has been, and continues to be, the main sticking point.

But the situation is so much more complex than rich countries pitted against poor. Wealthy Middle Eastern oil states; strongly leftist Latin American countries (some of whom are also big oil producers); rapidly industrialising countries like India and China with huge levels of poverty (a recent IDS paper found half of the world’s poor live in India and China); small island states at risk of disappearing; least developed countries; a fiercely sceptic and anti-science US; a stagnating Europe locked in its own crisis; an autocratic Russia with little regard for the views of others – I could go on. International politics has always been complex and tough but seeing a way through to a global agreement on climate (or anything else), particularly in the context of the financial crisis, seems nigh impossible.

But a patchwork, piecemeal, voluntary, unscientific, self interested approach means doom for the planet, and the poorest, so somehow we must find a way.

2010 Cancun Climate Talks

What I can’t quite work out is whether this crisis means we should jump in further to try and make it work, or disengage and focus our energies on creating better political conditions in capitals or on getting action on the ground. I’d say most of us NGOs have gone for disengagement from the international process and refocus (for example Tearfund is putting more resource into equipping partners and allies in the US, Brazil and India) which leaves a smaller (maybe more agile and effective?) rump of experts lobbying internationally.

I would love to hear what others think – both inside and outside the climate policy bubble. We don’t want to waste our limited time and resources on something lumbering inevitably towards failure (either endless stalemate, breakdown or a weak pointless agreement) but likewise we don’t want the process to fail because we didn’t throw everything we had at it. How can we find the right tactics to reinvigorate the international process?

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…