The UK’s international development secretary Rory Stewart has said he wants to significantly increase the amount of aid the UK government spends on dealing with the climate crisis.
While it's not an official announcement, Stewart said in an interview with Sky News on Tuesday that his goal would be to ramp up the funding for climate change action — from £1.1 billion to £2.2 billion over the next five years.
Stewart — the Conservative MP for Penrith and The Border in Cumbria — is newly appointed to his role, having taken over as head of the Department for International Development (DfID) from Penny Mordaunt at the start of May.
His proposal underlines how the climate crisis is undermining efforts to tackle poverty around the world. Stewart went on to explain why the two goals, tackling poverty and helping the environment, are inextricably linked.
"We are facing an environment cataclysm,” Stewart said. “Quite literally the ice shelf is going 10 times more quickly than people expected, we are about to lose maybe a million species on earth and that is even before you count the fact that 100 million more people will be in poverty unless we tackle this.”
The goal of DfID is to fund projects that work to support the world's poorest people, for example, spurring economic development and improving public health, access to education, and gender equality. But increasingly, there is a need to explore ways to mitigate the effects of climate disaster that disproportationaly affect developing countries.
Stewart told Sky News: “The real lesson of the last 10 to 15 years is that poverty and climate are one of the same thing. We are facing a people emergency and a climate emergency and it is the same emergency, because actually that poverty is driven by the desertification of the Sahara, it’s being driven by crops no longer being able to grow in Africa, it’s driven by a thousand factors.”
Stewart has some prior experience working on environmental policies. He was previously a minister in the Department of Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) working on issues like flood resilience and recycling.
He has also advocated for the UK to expand its tree planting programme by planting 120 million native trees in four months, the environmental news site Business Green reported.
If implemented, the increased funding from DfID would not be new government funding but would fall as part of the department’s normal UK aid budget. It could potentially be spent on things like rainforest protection, conservation, and university research in to renewable energy.
The UK is currently lagging behind other countries for its spending on research in to renewable energy sources, as a share of GDP, for example.
Campaigners have previously criticised some of DfID’s action on the environment. Three years ago journalists writing for Unearthed, the investigations team for Greenpeace, found that UK aid funding had supported the Malawian government's plans for oil extraction near a UNESCO-protected lake, for example.
But Stewart suggested in his interview that a potential benefit of the increased funding for climate action is that it reflects the escalating public interest in environmental issues — while also tackling extreme poverty.