Finally a Telegraph front page story on climate finance…

…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)

  • ·BUT

–         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. 


Have we COPped out?

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.