UK slashes climate diplomacy budget

EXCLUSIVE: Deep cuts to the foreign office’s climate spending shatters the UK’s image of global leadership

UK foreign secretary Philip Hammond does not see climate change as a priority (Pic: Flickr/Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

UK foreign secretary Philip Hammond does not see climate change as a priority (Pic: Flickr/Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

By Megan Darby

The UK is slashing its climate change diplomacy budget even as global efforts to reach a deal intensify, RTCC can reveal.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) cut spending on its core climate change activities by 39% over the past three years.

This reduces the UK’s capacity to influence other countries’ positions on climate action in the run-up to the global deal expected in 2015.

Newly appointed foreign secretary Philip Hammond is seen as less interested in climate change than his predecessor William Hague, meaning the trend is likely to continue.

Tom Burke, a former advisor to the FCO, said the government “has cut its capacity to get a better deal for the world in half”.

“Until 2010, the UK government was playing a leading role in shaping the global debate on climate change. There was a growing awareness of the importance of climate change as a core national interest,” said Burke.

“Since 2010, the foreign office’s role in that has been cut.”

Deep cuts

The extent of the cuts was revealed in response to a Freedom of Information request by RTCC.

Between 2011/12 and 2013/14, spending on activity related to climate change, the low carbon economy and energy security fell 28%, from £22 million to £16 million. The figures do not include staff costs and overheads.

In the response, an FCO official said the reduction “has been planned as a necessary part of our overall savings programme, and we have been able to revise our spending so that we are able to prioritise it in areas where the FCO can have the most impact”.

The majority of that spending was on projects under the Prosperity Fund, which “promotes action on global issues in areas of strategic importance to the UK”.

When project-specific spending is taken out of the equation, it reveals even deeper cuts to the department’s essential capacity for climate diplomacy.

The budget for FCO’s climate change and energy department, special representative for climate change and overseas missions was hacked by 39%, from £7.5 million in 2011/12 to £4.5 million in 2013/14.

The project budget also suggests a shift in priorities.

Spending on “energy/resource security” projects increased by 11% at the same time as “climate change” projects faced a 39% cut.

Former UK foreign secretary William Hague was seen as a climate champion (Pic: Chatham House)

Former UK foreign secretary William Hague was seen as a champion of strong climate action (Pic: Chatham House)

These cuts took place on Hague’s watch as foreign secretary.

However, he was widely viewed as champion of strong climate action in the cabinet, which also contained the climate sceptic Owen Paterson.

Hammond, who came into the post from the defence department, said on taking office his priorities were “security, economy and Europe”. Climate change did not get a mention.

The subject will become increasingly relevant as countries consider the emissions cuts they can bring to climate talks in Paris next year, where a global deal is set to be signed.

With a reduced budget, the FCO will be limited in efforts to influence other countries ahead of formal negotiations.

Currently, most major embassies have a team focused on the low carbon sector. Around 20 officials are dedicated to climate related activities in Beijing.

Burke, who advised the department’s special envoy on climate change until 2012, said Hague was “a powerful voice” for strong climate action in government.

“Despite agreeing to the cuts, he was a reliable supporter of more ambitious efforts on climate change and I don’t think Mr Hammond will be,” said Burke.

“That will encourage the foreign office, which has never fully grasped the importance of the issue, to keep downgrading it.”

Read more on: Climate politics | |