Climate loans threaten rerun of Copenhagen

UK loans to low income countries will make the poor pay twice for climate change

On Thursday, International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell promised to stump up funds to ensure developing countries are better heard in climate negotiations. But it is difficult to see how those countries could be any clearer than they were last year at the disastrous Copenhagen climate summit - the problem is that the British government isn't listening.

At the end of next week, delegates from across the world will start arriving in Cancun for the follow-up to Copenhagen. They do so in the shadow of the World Bank's announcement of $270 million for three countries - Bangladesh, Niger and Tajikistan - to help them cope with the effects of climate change, for instance by protecting coastlines and planting crops more resilient to flooding.

These funds will be enhanced by others and ultimately the money comes from developed country governments like that of the UK. The problem is that much of the money will come not in the form of grants but low-interest loans. The total package given to Bangladesh, for instance, is $624 million, of which 92% comes in the form of loans. $60 million of these loans have come from the UK Government.

Why is this a problem? Because it contradicts the main principle which developing countries are fighting for in climate negotiations - that rich countries must not only reduce their emissions substantially but they must pay for poorer countries to clean up the devastation caused by climate change, not to mention helping those countries to develop in a more sustainable manner now they are denied the 'cheap development' which has fuelled wealth in the West.

Instead, offering loans attempts to make developing countries pay twice - first because they are suffering the worst consequences of climate change, but second because they now have to pick up the tab for that chaos when they repay their loans. That's why developing countries and campaign groups are united that these loans are completely unacceptable.

The developing countries involved in this first tranche of funding cannot be regarded as anything other than very poor. All are defined as low income. Bangladesh already has a high debt - $23.6 billion and rising, despite the country paying over $1billion a year servicing that debt.

Niger owes much less - but only because it received over $1 billion of debt relief in 2004 after struggling with unjust debts for over a decade. Meanwhile Tajikistan is already at high risk of a debt crisis according to the International Monetary Fund.

Forcing these countries to pay for their own clean-up is rather like breaking into your neighbour's house, causing devastation, and lending them money to get the cleaners in.

UK funds are all channelled through the World Bank, rather than a special United Nations fund which has been created through international agreement. This too is contentious. The UN Fund has a unique bottom-up approach to finance - any country can apply to it, and that country retains a good deal of control over how the project is implemented.

The World Bank, on the other hand, is top-down - selecting which countries should receive climate financing - and hypocritically remains one of the world's largest supporters of fossil fuel projects. In fact the UK has made the World Bank's funding even worse than it otherwise would have been; the Bank says that the only reason it is giving loans is because the UK has provided its money as capital rather than a grant.

None of this sits well with the pre-election commitments of the governing parties. Liberal Democrat party policy is to "support the UN Adaptation Fund" and to provide "grants for communities vulnerable to the impact of climate change without increasing the burden on indebted countries". Conservative party policy is to "continue, as far as possible, to give aid as grants not loans" and to "encourage other donors" to do the same.

Perhaps it's little wonder that expectations are being vigorously managed ahead of Cancun. But let's not pretend it's because developing countries can't be heard. Any progress towards a just climate solution depends on rich countries starting to listen pretty quickly.

Nick Dearden is the director of Jubilee Debt Campaign

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The Brexit Beartraps, #2: Could dropping out of the open skies agreement cancel your holiday?

Flying to Europe is about to get a lot more difficult.

So what is it this time, eh? Brexit is going to wipe out every banana planet on the entire planet? Brexit will get the Last Night of the Proms cancelled? Brexit will bring about World War Three?

To be honest, I think we’re pretty well covered already on that last score, but no, this week it’s nothing so terrifying. It’s just that Brexit might get your holiday cancelled.

What are you blithering about now?

Well, only if you want to holiday in Europe, I suppose. If you’re going to Blackpool you’ll be fine. Or Pakistan, according to some people...

You’re making this up.

I’m honestly not, though we can’t entirely rule out the possibility somebody is. Last month Michael O’Leary, the Ryanair boss who attracts headlines the way certain other things attract flies, warned that, “There is a real prospect... that there are going to be no flights between the UK and Europe for a period of weeks, months beyond March 2019... We will be cancelling people’s holidays for summer of 2019.”

He’s just trying to block Brexit, the bloody saboteur.

Well, yes, he’s been quite explicit about that, and says we should just ignore the referendum result. Honestly, he’s so Remainiac he makes me look like Dan Hannan.

But he’s not wrong that there are issues: please fasten your seatbelt, and brace yourself for some turbulence.

Not so long ago, aviation was a very national sort of a business: many of the big airports were owned by nation states, and the airline industry was dominated by the state-backed national flag carriers (British Airways, Air France and so on). Since governments set airline regulations too, that meant those airlines were given all sorts of competitive advantages in their own country, and pretty much everyone faced barriers to entry in others. 

The EU changed all that. Since 1994, the European Single Aviation Market (ESAM) has allowed free movement of people and cargo; established common rules over safety, security, the environment and so on; and ensured fair competition between European airlines. It also means that an AOC – an Air Operator Certificate, the bit of paper an airline needs to fly – from any European country would be enough to operate in all of them. 

Do we really need all these acronyms?

No, alas, we need more of them. There’s also ECAA, the European Common Aviation Area – that’s the area ESAM covers; basically, ESAM is the aviation bit of the single market, and ECAA the aviation bit of the European Economic Area, or EEA. Then there’s ESAA, the European Aviation Safety Agency, which regulates, well, you can probably guess what it regulates to be honest.

All this may sound a bit dry-

It is.

-it is a bit dry, yes. But it’s also the thing that made it much easier to travel around Europe. It made the European aviation industry much more competitive, which is where the whole cheap flights thing came from.

In a speech last December, Andrew Haines, the boss of Britain’s Civil Aviation Authority said that, since 2000, the number of destinations served from UK airports has doubled; since 1993, fares have dropped by a third. Which is brilliant.

Brexit, though, means we’re probably going to have to pull out of these arrangements.

Stop talking Britain down.

Don’t tell me, tell Brexit secretary David Davis. To monitor and enforce all these international agreements, you need an international court system. That’s the European Court of Justice, which ministers have repeatedly made clear that we’re leaving.

So: last March, when Davis was asked by a select committee whether the open skies system would persist, he replied: “One would presume that would not apply to us” – although he promised he’d fight for a successor, which is very reassuring. 

We can always holiday elsewhere. 

Perhaps you can – O’Leary also claimed (I’m still not making this up) that a senior Brexit minister had told him that lost European airline traffic could be made up for through a bilateral agreement with Pakistan. Which seems a bit optimistic to me, but what do I know.

Intercontinental flights are still likely to be more difficult, though. Since 2007, flights between Europe and the US have operated under a separate open skies agreement, and leaving the EU means we’re we’re about to fall out of that, too.  

Surely we’ll just revert to whatever rules there were before.

Apparently not. Airlines for America – a trade body for... well, you can probably guess that, too – has pointed out that, if we do, there are no historic rules to fall back on: there’s no aviation equivalent of the WTO.

The claim that flights are going to just stop is definitely a worst case scenario: in practice, we can probably negotiate a bunch of new agreements. But we’re already negotiating a lot of other things, and we’re on a deadline, so we’re tight for time.

In fact, we’re really tight for time. Airlines for America has also argued that – because so many tickets are sold a year or more in advance – airlines really need a new deal in place by March 2018, if they’re to have faith they can keep flying. So it’s asking for aviation to be prioritised in negotiations.

The only problem is, we can’t negotiate anything else until the EU decides we’ve made enough progress on the divorce bill and the rights of EU nationals. And the clock’s ticking.

This is just remoaning. Brexit will set us free.

A little bit, maybe. CAA’s Haines has also said he believes “talk of significant retrenchment is very much over-stated, and Brexit offers potential opportunities in other areas”. Falling out of Europe means falling out of European ownership rules, so itcould bring foreign capital into the UK aviation industry (assuming anyone still wants to invest, of course). It would also mean more flexibility on “slot rules”, by which airports have to hand out landing times, and which are I gather a source of some contention at the moment.

But Haines also pointed out that the UK has been one of the most influential contributors to European aviation regulations: leaving the European system will mean we lose that influence. And let’s not forget that it was European law that gave passengers the right to redress when things go wrong: if you’ve ever had a refund after long delays, you’ve got the EU to thank.

So: the planes may not stop flying. But the UK will have less influence over the future of aviation; passengers might have fewer consumer rights; and while it’s not clear that Brexit will mean vastly fewer flights, it’s hard to see how it will mean more, so between that and the slide in sterling, prices are likely to rise, too.

It’s not that Brexit is inevitably going to mean disaster. It’s just that it’ll take a lot of effort for very little obvious reward. Which is becoming something of a theme.

Still, we’ll be free of those bureaucrats at the ECJ, won’t be?

This’ll be a great comfort when we’re all holidaying in Grimsby.

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Brexit. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.