The UK government has been caught trying to pass off aid that it sends to war-torn and poor countries such as Afghanistan, Yemen, and Somalia as “climate finance,” even though these projects have nothing to do with climate action.

According to documents released under a freedom of information request by Carbon Brief, the UK is accused of “double counting” nearly £500 million (€585 million) of international aid — which goes towards humanitarian work such as providing food and other basic necessities — as “climate finance,” in a bid to meet its international commitments under the Paris Agreement.

Part of the reclassification also includes an assumption that 35% of the money the UK gives to the World Bank counts as international climate funding.

Let’s be clear. International climate finance refers to “financing — drawn from public, private, and alternative sources of financing — that seeks to support mitigation and adaptation actions that will address climate change,” according to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Overseas Development Aid (ODA) is not the same thing. Giving food to starving Afghans does not count as climate action just because Afghanistan is one of the countries most vulnerable to climate change.

In the words of UK organization Global Justice Now, which campaigns on issues of global justice and development in the Global South: “To double count climate finance and humanitarian aid in a time of accelerating climate change and escalating global conflict is grotesque and irresponsible.”

Greenpeace UK, meanwhile, had this to say: “Fiddling with figures rather than actually delivering climate justice. This is not what climate leadership looks like.”

Under the Paris agreement, rich countries — who are historically responsible for the climate emergency — signed an agreement almost a decade ago committing to providing funds to nations on the frontlines of the crisis.

The double counting news follows reports from last year that the UK's pledge to spend £11.6 billion on climate aid between 2021-22 and 2025-26 was slipping out of reach, due to chronic underspending and the overseas aid budget being reduced from 0.7% to 0.5% of national income.

By way of contrast, previous climate projects funded under the £11.6 billion pledge include renewable energy, low-pollution transport, and forest preservation. Some of the government’s internal reports even state clearly that they are not climate-finance projects. 

By redefining existing funds pegged for development banks’ investment in foreign businesses and humanitarian aid as “climate finance”, the UK government expects to add £1.72 billion to its total.

Euan Ritchie, a senior policy adviser at the thinktank Development Initiatives, said: “Just because humanitarian aid is going to a country that is vulnerable to climate change doesn’t mean it addresses that vulnerability. And these projects have already been screened for their climate focus.”

It’s not just the UK that’s moving the goalposts. Despite hosting the Summit for a New Global Financial Pact in Paris last year, during which French President Emmanuel Macron promised to take stock “on all the means and ways of increasing financial solidarity with the [Global] South,” in February this year, France’s Economy and Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire announced the country is slashing its Official Development Assistance (ODA) budget by almost €800 million — a 13% cut. 

ODA is funding, provided by governments of wealthy nations to developing countries, and is an essential tool for assisting those living on the frontlines of climate disasters and humanitarian crises. It goes towards things like improving access to water, healthcare and high-quality education, protecting biodiversity, and combating the climate emergency.

Meanwhile, Germany took a machete to its own ODA leading to sharp cuts to the tune of €1.7 billion in the development budget and €430 million in the humanitarian budget, compared to 2022.

Even more concerning are the European Union’s agreed budget cuts, revealed in Feb. 2024, which are set to cut at least €2 billion from vital development and climate investments in partner countries in order to fund migration programmes.


Defend the Planet

The UK is Trying to Count the Aid it Gives to Afghanistan as Climate Finance

By Tess Lowery