After the Paris Agreement the UK must help protect developing countries

09 Mar 2016
Those who have contributed the least to climate change are suffering the greatest impacts writes Diane Abbott MP

The Paris Agreement raised world ambition to tackle climate change. Now we need action to make sure that it delivers for those in developing countries who are on the front line of climate change impacts.

For the first time, world leaders have set their sights on keeping global temperature rises to 1.5 degrees. This is not a technical matter. The difference between 1.5 degrees and two degrees warming is the difference between life and death for millions of people – mostly in developing countries.

The Earth’s surface has already warmed one degree since pre-industrial levels, and the impacts are already devastating for developing countries. Decades long droughts in the Sahel in sub-Saharan Africa in have plunged millions of people into severe famine – part of a longer term desertification driven by climate change. 

The United Nations is warning that 15 million Ethiopians will need food aid in 2016 because of catastrophic crop failure caused by drought. The war in Syria is just one conflict thought to be exacerbated by climate change.

The Syrian drought that began in 2006 led to some regions losing up to 85 per cent of livestock, and provoked mass migration from rural to urban areas, exacerbating existing social and political tensions.

Developing countries have done the least to contribute to causing climate change yet they face the biggest impacts of extreme weather, and the weaker infrastructure and public services leave people in those countries least able to adapt.

Tackling climate change is a question of justice as well as science. Ahead of Paris, all countries were asked to come forward with pledges of the climate changing emissions they would cut in their own country. Rich countries pledged less than their fair share of action. Poor countries pledged more than their fair share of action.

In total the collective action committed puts the world on track to around three degrees warming, which would leave large parts of the planet uninhabitable. This would mean mass migration of people on a scale not yet seen, and serious disruption to agriculture and food supplies globally, and heightened competition for water.

One of the big disappointments in Paris was the issue of climate finance. For developing countries to deliver the domestic emissions reduction they pledged, they need financial support (from the rich countries that caused climate change) to help them leapfrog the dirty energy mistakes we made: such as moving straight to renewable energy. They also need support to adapt to the impacts of climate change that cannot be avoided.

Previous climate negotiations had arrived at the idea that $100 billion was the minimum budget needed to support developing countries to cut emissions and to adapt. Developing countries had always argued that this was a gross under-estimate of the money needed. Even this ‘baseline’ commitment was deleted from the Agreement leaving poor countries with little confidence that the money will be forthcoming.

The UK’s responsibility to support developing countries

The UK’s first responsibility is to cut climate-changing emissions at home. Yet, immediately the Government has compounded its approach to boosting fossil fuels and slashing support for renewable energy – exactly the opposite of what is needed.

For example, the Government has announced a massive 63% cut in support for domestic solar energy. As my colleague Lisa Nandy has put it, “At the very same time the energy secretary is telling her colleagues in private we’re not on course to meet our legal target on clean energy, she is cutting wind and solar schemes that could help us to meet it. It beggars belief.”

Our second responsibility is to support developing countries to develop low carbon economies and to adapt to climate impacts.  The evidence is clear that clean development, powered by renewable energy is better than fossil fuels for people, the environment and developing economies.

But the UK has been criticized for committing almost half the amount that comparable countries, including France and Germany, have committed to climate finance, and for diverting much needed funds from the development budget.

At a critical moment in world history, the Conservative Government is locking the UK to a high carbon future, and making us increasingly part of the global problem rather than the global solution to climate change.

This approach will mean millions of people in developing countries are hit twice: their economies will not benefit from the shift to low carbon, and their people will be hit by climate impacts that they had no part in creating.

It is time for a different approach. That is why the Labour Party is calling for the Government to ensure the UK takes our fair share of action to honour the Paris Agreement.

This means we must rigorously pursue efforts to limit temperature increases to 1.5 degrees, and we must support developing countries to adapt to the already devastating impacts of our changing climate.

* Diane Abbott MP is the Shadow International Development Secretary. This article originally appeared at

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