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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Richmond is a wake-up call for Labour's Brexit strategy

No one made Labour stand in Richmond Park. 

Oh, Labour Party. There was a way through.

No one made you stand in Richmond Park. You could have "struck a blow against the government", you could have shared the Lib Dem success. Instead, you lost both your dignity and your deposit. And to cap it all (Christian Wolmar, take a bow) you self-nominated for a Nobel Prize for Mansplaining.

It’s like the party strategist is locked in the bowels of HQ, endlessly looping in reverse Olivia Newton John’s "Making a Good Thing Better".

And no one can think that today marks the end of the party’s problems on Brexit.

But the thing is: there’s no need to Labour on. You can fix it.

Set the government some tests. Table some amendments: “The government shall negotiate having regard to…”

  • What would be good for our economy (boost investment, trade and jobs).
  • What would enhance fairness (help individuals and communities who have missed out over the last decades).
  • What would deliver sovereignty (magnify our democratic control over our destiny).
  • What would improve finances (what Brexit makes us better off, individually and collectively). 

And say that, if the government does not meet those tests, the Labour party will not support the Article 50 deal. You’ll take some pain today – but no matter, the general election is not for years. And if the tests are well crafted they will be easy to defend.

Then wait for the negotiations to conclude. If in 2019, Boris Johnson returns bearing cake for all, if the tests are achieved, Labour will, and rightly, support the government’s Brexit deal. There will be no second referendum. And MPs in Leave voting constituencies will bear no Brexit penalty at the polls.

But if he returns with thin gruel? If the economy has tanked, if inflation is rising and living standards have slumped, and the deficit has ballooned – what then? The only winners will be door manufacturers. Across the country they will be hard at work replacing those kicked down at constituency offices by voters demanding a fix. Labour will be joined in rejecting the deal from all across the floor: Labour will have shown the way.

Because the party reads the electorate today as wanting Brexit, it concludes it must deliver it. But, even for those who think a politician’s job is to channel the electorate, this thinking discloses an error in logic. The task is not to read the political dynamic of today. It is to position itself for the dynamic when it matters - at the next general election

And by setting some economic tests for a good Brexit, Labour can buy an option on that for free.

An earlier version of this argument appeared on Jolyon Maugham's blog Waiting For Tax.

Jolyon Maugham is a barrister who advised Ed Miliband on tax policy. He blogs at Waiting for Tax, and writes for the NS on tax and legal issues.