On 11 January 2024, the House of Lords will debate the following motion:

Baroness Northover (Liberal Democrat) to move that this House takes note of the United Kingdom’s contribution to international development, particularly in relation to the impact of climate change on developing nations.

1. UK spending on official development assistance

Official development assistance (ODA) is defined by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s Development Assistance Committee as “government aid that promotes and specifically targets the economic development and welfare of developing countries”.[1] This includes grants, loans and other forms of support that meet the following criteria:

  • provided by governments, including state and local governments, or by their executive agencies
  • promote economic development and improve the welfare of people in developing countries
  • provided on concessional terms and convey a grant element of at least 25 percent (calculated at a rate of discount of 10 percent)

Military aid, peacekeeping expenditures, and some cultural programmes that primarily aim to enhance the donor country’s image are not considered ODA.

Under the International Development (Official Development Assistance Target) Act 2015, there is a duty on the government to allocate 0.7 percent of its gross national income (GNI) to ODA annually. If the target is not met, the government must provide Parliament with an explanation, addressing factors such as economic changes, fiscal implications and circumstances outside the UK. The statement must also outline the measures taken to ensure the target is met in the following year.

The government is currently committed to spending 0.5 percent of the UK’s GNI on ODA. This is a decrease from the statutory target of 0.7 percent. The decision by the Boris Johnson government in November 2020 to reduce the ODA target was made in response to the Covid-19 pandemic and its impact on the UK’s economy.[2] The House of Commons has since voted in favour of two Treasury-proposed tests that must be met before spending is restored to 0.7%.[3]

1.1 Overall ODA spending in 2022

In its latest statistical publication on development spending, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) reported that the UK’s ODA spend reached £12.79bn in 2022.[4] This represented an increase of £1.37bn (12.0 percent) compared with 2021. The FCDO primarily attributed this to two factors: the size of the UK economy growing over 10 percent in a year (from £2.27tn in 2021 to £2.51tn in 2022), and “additional resources made available by the government, some of which was spent in 2022”.[5] The FCDO noted that the total amount of UK ODA as a proportion of UK GNI (ODA:GNI ratio) in 2022 was 0.51 percent, which showed that the UK had “spent in line with the government’s decision to spend around 0.5 percent of GNI on ODA in 2022”.

The following chart details the UK’s ODA spending since 1970 in cash terms (£mn) and as a proportion of GNI. The 0.7 percent target was first agreed in 1970.[6]

Chart 1: UK ODA levels (£mn) and ODA:GNI ratios (percentage), 1970–2022

The chart shows that the UK spent £12.79bn on official development assistance in 2022, which represents 0.51 percent of its gross national income.
Chart 1: UK ODA levels (£mn) and ODA:GNI ratios (percentage), 1970–2022. Source: Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, ‘Statistics on international development: Final UK aid spend 2022’, September 2023, p 11.

1.2 Bilateral aid

In 2022 the UK delivered £9.64bn (75.3 percent) of its ODA through bilateral channels. These channels involve providing funding for a specific purpose, such as supporting a specific country, region or sector, often through collaboration with multilateral organisations.[7] This represented an increase of £2.41bn (33.3 percent) compared with 2021.

The FCDO reported that 30.5 percent (£2.94bn) of the UK’s bilateral ODA was allocated to a specific country or region in 2022, which was a reduction from 47.1 percent (£3.41bn) in 2021.[8] The FCDO attributed this reduction in share predominantly to “an increase in in-donor [within the UK] refugee costs which, by definition, are not allocated a benefiting country or region”.

A breakdown of bilateral ODA allocation by region in 2022 highlighted:

  • Despite a decrease since 2021 of £486mn (28.2 percent), Africa remained the largest recipient region of UK bilateral ODA, receiving 42.2 percent of the total. The amount allocated to countries in the continent fell from £1.73bn in 2021 to £1.24bn in 2022, marking the “lowest level in recent years”. The FCDO noted that “apart from a slight increase in 2019, bilateral ODA to Africa has been decreasing since 2018”.
  • Asia remained the second-largest recipient region of bilateral UK ODA, receiving 35.9 percent, which was a decrease from 38.8 percent in 2021. Bilateral ODA to Asia declined by £269mn from £1.32bn in 2021 to £1.05bn in 2022. This represented the lowest ODA volume to Asia since 2009.
  • The Americas received £183mn of UK bilateral ODA, a 6.5 percent decrease from £196mn in 2021. ODA to the Americas accounted for 6.2 percent of country- or region-specific bilateral ODA.
  • Europe received £452mn of UK bilateral ODA, an increase from £154mn in 2021. ODA to the Europe region accounted for 15.4 percent of country- or region-specific bilateral ODA compared with 4.5 percent in 2021. This increase was “driven by increased support to Ukraine following the Russian invasion in February 2022”.
  • The Pacific region received a small proportion of UK bilateral ODA, accounting for 0.3 percent of the total allocated to specific countries or regions in 2022. This amounted to £10mn, representing a slight increase from 2021, where UK bilateral ODA to the region was also £10mn.[9]

Examining the country-specific recipients of UK bilateral ODA, the top three recipients in 2022 were Afghanistan (£352mn), Ukraine (£342mn) and Nigeria (£110mn).[10] These three countries accounted for 34.0 percent of the total country-specific UK bilateral ODA. The top 10 country-specific recipients of UK ODA can be found in the chart below.

Chart 2: Top 10 recipients of country-specific UK bilateral ODA in 2022

The following chart details the top 10 country-specific recipients of UK bilateral official development assistance in 2022. It shows that Afghanistan received the most UK bilateral aid with £352mn, whilst Bangladesh was the 10th-highest recipient of UK bilateral aid, receiving £55mn.
Chart 2: Top 10 recipients of country-specific UK bilateral ODA in 2022. Source: Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, ‘Statistics on international development: Final UK aid spend 2022’, September 2023, p 23.

The UK classifies its ODA into various sectors based on the aid’s purpose, such as in the social, economic or humanitarian assistance areas it aims to support. In 2022, the largest share of UK ODA was allocated towards supporting refugees in the UK, amounting to £3.69bn.[11] This is known as “in-donor” support. Support costs include the provision of food, clothing or shelter, such as temporary bridging hotel accommodation.[12] The £3.69bn allocation in 2022 represented 28.8 percent of the total ODA allocated and 38.9 percent of bilateral ODA. It also marked an increase from £1.05bn in 2021, which amounted to 9.2 percent of overall ODA in that year. The increase in spending within the UK was driven by increased accommodation costs for asylum seekers and the introduction of the Ukraine temporary protection visa schemes (Homes for Ukraine, the Ukraine family visa scheme and the Ukraine extension scheme). This spending meant 2022 marked the second consecutive year that supporting refugees in the UK topped the ODA allocation.[13]

The other sectors in the top five for bilateral UK ODA spending were ‘humanitarian’ (£1.09bn), ‘health’ (£976mn), ‘multisector/cross-cutting’ (£850mn) and ‘government and civil society’ (£721mn).

1.3 Multilateral aid

The UK also channelled £3.16bn (24.7 percent) of its ODA through core contributions to multilateral organisations in 2022.[14] This form of ODA involves providing financial support directly to multilateral organisations, such as the World Bank, without specifically allocating it to a particular project or programme. Instead, these core contributions are pooled together with funding from other donors to support the overall objectives of the multilateral organisation.

The UK’s contribution of £3.16bn in 2022 represented a decrease of £1.03bn (24.7 percent) compared with 2021. The FCDO noted that this was the “lowest share of multilateral ODA in recent years”.[15]

In 2022, the development share of the EU budget continued to receive the largest core contribution of multilateral funding from UK ODA, amounting to £532mn.[16] This marked a decrease from £684mn in 2021. The FCDO stated that the UK’s share of the EU ODA budget fluctuates from year to year due to the EU’s seven-year programming cycle, which can impact the disbursement of funds. Under the Withdrawal Agreement, the UK committed to meeting outstanding contributions from the 2014–20 EU budget beyond 1 January 2021; this included contributions for external action, development and humanitarian aid. This means a “declining tail” of ODA contributions until 2029–30.[17]

Other recipients of multilateral funding from UK ODA included the global fund to fight Aids, tuberculosis and malaria (£434mn), the International Development Association (£316mn) and the African development fund (£300mn). In addition, the UK allocated £288mn to the green climate fund (GCF). The GCF describes itself as a “critical element of the historic Paris Agreement” on climate change. It also says that as the “world’s largest climate fund” it is “mandated to support developing countries raise and realize their nationally determined contributions ambitions towards low-emissions, climate-resilient pathways.[18]

The following table details the top 10 recipients of UK core funding to multilateral organisations for 2022:

Table 1: Top 10 recipients of UK core funding to multilateral organisations, 2022
Multilateral ODA £mn % of total multilateral ODA
European Commission: Development share of budget 532 16.9
Global fund to fight Aids, tuberculosis and malaria 434 13.8
International Development Association 316 10.0
European Commission: European development fund 304 9.6
African development fund 300 9.5
Green climate fund 288 9.1
International Finance Facility for Immunisation 277 7.2
World Health Organization: Core voluntary contributions account 98 3.1
Global environment facility trust fund 63 2.0
Central emergency response fund 52 1.6

Source: Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, ‘Statistics on international development: Final UK aid spend 2022’, September 2023, p 40.

2. Impact of climate change on developing nations

Developing countries are disproportionately affected by the impacts of climate change, facing challenges such as severe weather events, rising sea levels and disruptions to agriculture and water resources.[19]

In 2023 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published a report summarising climate change, its widespread impacts and risks, and climate change mitigation and adaptation. The report highlighted that approximately 3.3 to 3.6 billion people lived in environments that were “highly vulnerable” to climate change.[20] It noted that vulnerable communities, particularly in least developed countries (LDCs) and small island developing states (SIDS), were “disproportionately affected” despite having “historically contributed the least” to climate change. It also found that people and regions with “considerable development constraints” were particularly vulnerable to climate-related hazards.

The IPCC also noted that increasing weather and climate extremes had “exposed” millions of people to acute food insecurity and reduced water security.[21] The most severe impacts had been observed in various areas and communities across Africa, the Arctic, Asia, Central and South America, LDCs and SIDS. These impacts had disproportionately affected indigenous peoples, small-scale food producers, and low-income households globally.

Moreover, the IPCC said that climate change had caused “widespread adverse impacts and related losses and damages” to nature and people, with these impacts being “unequally distributed” across systems, regions and sectors.[22] Economic losses from climate change had been documented in climate-exposed sectors, such as agriculture, forestry, fisheries, energy and tourism. Individual livelihoods had also been impacted, with the destruction of homes, infrastructure, loss of property and income, compromised human health and food security, with adverse consequences for gender and social equity.

Despite some progress in adaptation efforts, the IPCC acknowledged that adaptation gaps existed between levels of adaptation and levels “needed to respond to impacts and reduce climate risks”.[23] It also warned that current global financial flows “fall short” of the levels required to achieve climate goals across all sectors and regions. Therefore, the IPCC called for “deep, rapid and sustained mitigation and accelerated implementation of adaptation actions” in this decade.[24] This approach, it argued, would “reduce projected losses and damages for humans and ecosystems, and deliver many co-benefits”, particularly for air quality and health.

There have been a number of examples of climate change impacting developing countries. This includes two crises experienced in 2022:

  • In 2022, Pakistan suffered severe flooding that affected 33 million people and killed at least 1,700 people.[25] A study conducted by scientists at the Grantham Institute for Climate Change and the Environment at Imperial College London found evidence suggesting that climate change had “played an important role in the event”.[26] In January 2023, Pakistan’s then prime minister, Muhammad Shehbaz Sharif, outlined his approach to rebuilding and rehabilitating the country, which involved securing funding and investing in infrastructure to mitigate future disasters.[27]
  • In the same year, Afghanistan endured its worst drought for 30 years, with 25 out of 34 provinces in the country experiencing severe or catastrophic drought conditions.[28] The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) reported that this had left 29.2 million people requiring humanitarian assistance to survive. Acknowledging the link between climate change and the crisis, UNOCHA urged support from aid agencies to mitigate the impact of climate change. This included empowering Afghan citizens through agricultural programmes to achieve self-sufficiency and secure income, as well as strengthening disaster mitigation and effective watershed management mechanisms.

3. UK participation at recent Conferences of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change

The Conference of the Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is an annual conference where parties to the convention review its implementation and other legal instruments adopted by parties to the conference.[29] Recent COPs have focused on the commitments made in the 2015 Paris Agreement, which aimed to limit global warming “well below” two degrees celsius, preferably to 1.5 degrees, by requiring countries to set and progressively strengthen emissions reduction targets and collaborate on finance and technology to help developing countries adapt to climate change.

3.1 COP26

The UK hosted the COP26, in Glasgow, from 31 October to 13 November 2021.[30] It was attended by representatives from nearly 200 countries, in addition to delegates from business and civil society. The goals of the conference were to:

  • secure global net zero by mid-century and keep 1.5 degrees within reach
  • adapt to protect communities and natural habitats
  • mobilise finance
  • “work together to deliver” by finalising the rules that made the Paris Agreement operational (the ‘Paris rulebook’) and accelerating action to take the “climate crisis” through collaboration between governments, businesses and civil society

The Glasgow Climate Pact was signed on 13 November 2021. This included commitments to accelerate the phase-out of coal power and move towards a net zero emissions economy by 2050, accelerate the transition to clean energy and to limit warming to 1.5 degrees celsius above pre-industrial levels.[31] In addition, representatives agreed to raise $100bn annually by 2025 to help developing countries address climate change.

In an address at the end of the conference, the president of COP26, Alok Sharma, welcomed the Glasgow Climate Pact but called for countries to act on their commitments:

We can now say with credibility that we have kept 1.5 degrees alive. But, its pulse is weak and it will only survive if we keep our promises and translate commitments into rapid action.[32]

However, some representatives from developing nations criticised parties for not going further to mitigate the impact of climate change on developing nations. This included the minister of the environment for the Maldives, Shauna Aminath, who said:

What is balanced and pragmatic to other parties will not help the Maldives adapt in time. For us, this is a matter of survival. We recognise the foundations that this outcome provides, but it does not bring hope to our hearts. The difference between 1.5 and 2 degrees is a death sentence for us.[33]

3.2 COP27

COP27 took place in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, from 6 to 18 November 2022.[34] Assuming the presidency for COP27, Egypt outlined that its four objectives for the conference were:

  • Mitigation. Encourage all parties, particularly those with the capacity to “lead the way”, to take “bold and immediate actions” to reduce emissions and limit global warming to “well below” two degrees celsius.
  • Adaptation. Ensure that COP27 prioritised “crucially needed progress” towards enhancing climate change resilience and supporting the world’s most vulnerable communities.
  • Finance. Make “significant progress” on climate finance, including the delivery of $100bn annually to assist developing countries.
  • Collaboration. Negotiations were based on consensus; therefore reaching agreement would require participation from all relevant stakeholders.[35]

The conference concluded with agreement of the ‘Sharm el-Sheikh implementation plan’ on 20 November 2022.[36] The plan included establishing a ‘loss and damage fund’ to compensate vulnerable countries for the impacts of climate change. It would be financed by voluntary contributions from developed countries and would be used to support countries that were already experiencing the impacts of climate change, such as extreme weather events.

At the closing plenary on 20 November 2022, Alok Sharma praised the progress made on loss and damage.[37] However, he also acknowledged the challenges faced at COP27, arguing that several proposals had been unsuccessful. This included a “clear commitment to phase out all fossil fuels”.

3.3 COP28

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) hosted COP28 from 30 November to 12 December 2023. Ahead of the conference, the UAE outlined its themes for the conference:

  • Technology and innovation. The UAE called on governments, corporations, organisations and start-ups to “drive a step-change in the development and deployment of climate solutions to bring the world back to a 1.5 degrees celsius trajectory and reduce suffering for the most impacted populations and ecosystems”.
  • Inclusion. This would focus on “bringing everyone”, such as youth, entrepreneurs, gender groups and indigenous peoples, “to the table in a more inclusive process than previous COPs”.
  • Frontline communities. These are communities disproportionately affected by the impacts of climate change. These communities are often located in developing countries and are more vulnerable due to factors such as age, race, disability and gender.
  • Finance. At COP27, representatives agreed to the establishment of the ‘loss and damage fund’; however, a mechanism for the fund was not agreed. Therefore, COP28 would focus on creating a blueprint for this fund, which would be administered on an interim basis by the World Bank.[38]

Countries reached an agreement on how the loss and damage fund would operate and its funding arrangements on the first day of the conference.[39] The UNFCCC Secretariat reported that this was the first time that a “substantive decision” had been adopted on the first day of the conference. As at 6 December 2023, countries had committed $700mn to the fund. This included $100mn each from the host country, the UAE and Germany; $60mn from the UK; $17.5mn from the US; and $10mn from Japan.[40]

The conference also saw countries publish their progress as part of the global stocktake (GST), which was an assessment of the world’s progress on climate action. It evaluated progress against the three goals outlined in article 2 of the Paris Agreement 2015. The goals were as follows:

  • holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below two degrees celsius above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees celsius above pre-industrial levels, recognising that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change
  • increasing the ability to adapt to the adverse impacts of climate change and foster climate resilience and low greenhouse gas emissions development, in a manner that does not threaten food production
  • making finance flows consistent with a pathway towards low greenhouse gas emissions and climate-resilient development.[41]

During negotiations a number of developed countries, including Australia, the UK and US, and several small island states, such as Samoa, outlined their opposition to a draft agreement proposed by the UAE which called on countries to “take actions that could include” reducing fossil fuels.[42] Responding to the draft agreement, the chair of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), Cedric Schuster, stated that “we will not sign our death certificate” and that “we cannot sign on to text that does not have strong commitments on phasing out fossil fuels”.

On 13 December 2023, countries agreed the final text of the first GST. The GST included a commitment by countries to “transition away from fossil fuels in energy systems”.[43] The text of the GST called for this to be done in a “just, orderly and equitable manner”.

Responding to the GST, the German foreign minister, Annalena Baerbock, said that it “marks the end of the fossil fuel era”.[44] Similarly, Alok Sharma stated that “genuine progress” had been made at COP28 and that the “key now is if countries will deliver the rapid cuts in emissions needed to keep 1.5 degrees celsius alive”.[45]

However, some countries criticised the final agreement. The representative for Samoa, Anne Rasmussen, who also spoke on behalf of the AOSIS, stated that the alliance had “come to the conclusion that the course correction that is needed has not been secured”.[46]

4. Recent government measures aimed at mitigating the impact of climate change in developing countries

4.1 International development white paper

On 20 November 2023, the government published its international development white paper.[47] The white paper outlined the UK’s plan to accelerate progress to eliminate extreme poverty and address climate change and biodiversity loss.

In the white paper, the government said that the sustainable develop goals (SDGs) that were agreed to at the UN in 2015 were “off-track”, with only 15 percent of SDGs due to be met. The government also noted that this had led to the impacts of climate change and nature loss accelerating.[48] It attributed this to many factors, including the Covid-19 pandemic, increased energy and food insecurity globally as a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and an increasing number of countries being in “severe debt” and unable to access affordable finance to grow their economies.

The government stated that as “the global context for development had changed […] the UK approach to development needs to change with it”. It noted that developing countries “want and need a different development offer, based on mutual respect, powered by development finance at scale, and a more responsive multilateral and international system”. Therefore, the government said that its “re-energised international development agenda” would be based on the following priorities:

  • going further, faster to mobilise international finance to end extreme poverty, tackle climate change and biodiversity loss, power sustainable growth and increase private sector investment in development
  • strengthening and reforming the international system to improve action on trade, tax, debt, tackling dirty money and corruption, and delivering on global challenges like health, climate, nature and energy transition
  • harnessing innovation and new technologies, science and research for the greatest and most cost-effective development impact
  • ensuring opportunities for all, putting women and girls centre stage and investing in education and health systems that societies want
  • championing action to address state fragility, and anticipate and prevent conflict, humanitarian crises, climate disasters and threats to global health
  • building resilience and enabling adaptation for those affected by conflict, disasters and climate change, strengthening food security, social protection, disaster risk financing and building state capability
  • standing up for our values, for open inclusive societies, for women and girls, and preventing roll-back of rights

In order to end extreme poverty and tackle climate change and biodiversity loss, the government said action was needed across six areas.[49] These were as follows:

  • mobilising finances
  • reforming the international system to unlock progress
  • tackling climate change and biodiversity loss and enable economic transformation
  • ensuring opportunities for all, including through equality and rights, education health, water and social protection
  • tackling conflict and state fragility, disasters and food insecurity, including anticipatory action and building resilience
  • harnessing innovation to overcome barriers to development

The government also made several commitments on development assistance in the white paper. This included a commitment to spend 0.7 percent of GNI on ODA “once the fiscal situation allows” and that it aimed to spend at least 50 percent of bilateral ODA on the LDCs.[50]

Many of the commitments in the white paper were welcomed by international development stakeholders and organisations, although concerns were raised as to how the commitments would be financed. The chair of the House of Commons International Development Committee, Sarah Champion, stated that the white paper offered a “welcome change of tone” and that it had incorporated “much of the committee’s recent thinking and recommendations”.[51] However, Ms Champion added that the “funding gap” between 0.5 and 0.7 percent of the GNI aid budget was “still the elephant in the room”, with the UK’s ability to respond to humanitarian crises in areas of conflict and climate change having been “seriously compromised, financially and politically”.

Similarly, Bond, an international development network for non-governmental organisations, also welcomed several commitments, such as refocusing aid to low-income countries and increasing climate finance.[52] However, the network stated that there was a “nagging question” as to how the commitments would be resourced, “when the UK aid budget remains at 0.5 percent of national income, with a third of this currently being used to support refugees in the UK”.

4.2 International climate finance

International climate finance (ICF) is ODA from the UK to support developing countries in reducing poverty and responding to and mitigating the challenges caused by climate change and environmental degradation.[53] This helps developing countries to:

  • adapt and build resilience to the current and future effects of climate change
  • pursue low-carbon development
  • support sustainable management of natural resources
  • increase access to clean energy
  • reduce deforestation

The UK has committed to spending £11.6bn on ICF between 2021/22 and 2025/26, with £3.0bn to be invested on climate change solutions that “protect, restore and sustainably manage nature”.[54] Previously, £9.8bn was spent between 2011/12 and 2020/21. The ICF portfolio is delivered jointly across four UK government departments: the FCDO, the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero, the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology, and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

In March 2023, the government published a strategy outlining how the UK was using ICF to respond to and mitigate the challenges caused by climate change and environmental degradation.[55] In the strategy, the government noted that from April 2011 to March 2022, UK ICF programmes had:

  • directly supported 95 million people to cope with the effects of climate change
  • provided 58 million people with improved access to clean energy
  • supported 31 million people with improving their resilience to climate change
  • reduced or avoided 68mn tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions
  • installed 3,300 megawatts of clean energy capacity
  • avoided 410,000 hectares of deforestation
  • generated or protected ecosystem services with a value of £5.3mn
  • mobilised £5.7bn in public and £5.2bn in private finance for climate change purposes in developing countries
  • supported the sustainable management of 910,000 hectares of land

4.3 UK SIDS strategy 2022 to 2026

In January 2023, the government published its UK SIDS strategy for 2022 to 2026.[56] The strategy outlined the government’s approach to SIDS. In the strategy, the government noted that SIDS were “disproportionately affected by the impacts of global warming despite contributing only a tiny fraction of the world’s emissions”. It argued that the resulting sea-level rises, extreme weather events and warming ocean were “already jeopardising infrastructure as well as food and water security”.

The government stated that its strategy would therefore centre around six areas where the UK could support SIDS to grow and develop their economic and climate resilience by 2030. These areas were:

  • advocating for greater ambition and global action on mitigation against and adaptation to climate change and natural disasters
  • supporting SIDS to develop the capacity they need to protect their ocean biodiversity and resources, and reduce poverty through developing sustainable blue economies including through the ‘Blue planet fund’
  • putting inclusive governance and shared values at the centre of the UK’s efforts, including developing better guidelines to improve aid impact in SIDS
  • recognising the trade dependency of SIDS in sectors vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, and encouraging all providers of finance to prioritise climate and economic resilience in their investments
  • commitment to engage on debt issues: addressing debt vulnerabilities and increasing fiscal space will be important as SIDS recover from the Covid-19 crisis and as they invest in their own resilience
  • advocating for an international system that meets the needs of small states with low capacity in a modern world

4.4 Strategy for international development

In May 2022, the government led by former prime minister Boris Johnson published its international development strategy.[57] The strategy set out four priorities for its international development efforts:

  • Deliver honest and reliable investment, building on the UK’s financial expertise and the strengths of the City of London, and delivering the prime minister’s vision for the clean green initiative, supporting partner countries to grow their economies sustainably.
  • Provide women and girls with the freedom they need to succeed, unlocking their future potential, educating girls, supporting their empowerment and protecting them against violence.
  • Provide life-saving humanitarian assistance and work to prevent the worst forms of human suffering, prioritising our funding and being a global leader in driving a more effective international response to humanitarian crises.
  • Take forward our work on climate change, nature and global health. We are putting the commitments of our presidency of G7 and COP26, our global leadership in science and technology, and our Covid-19 response, at the core of our international development offer.[58]

The government stated that it would have a “distinct UK approach to development”.[59] This would be characterised by:

  • taking a patient approach which helps our partners to tackle the structural problems they face, building the strong economic and social foundations that underpin long-term development
  • doing proportionately more through country and bilateral programmes, being a more responsive development partner to countries’ needs and more consciously geopolitical in approach
  • using our world-class British expertise to support partner countries through providing advice, exchanging lessons and evidence of what works, and building partnerships across government, business and civil society
  • stripping back excessive bureaucracy associated with delivering aid, giving our ambassadors and high commissioners greater authority and making it quicker to get programmes delivering on the ground

In the strategy, the government detailed its approach to tackling climate change and protecting nature.[60] The government said that its 2021 integrated review had made tackling climate change and biodiversity loss its number one international priority. The government also highlighted the UK being the first major economy to set a binding net zero emissions target and committing to doubling its ICF contribution. Additionally, it committed to ensuring that the UK would “continue to lead by example” beyond its presidency of COP26 and “push for further strong international commitments and implementation” through the UNFCCC and Convention on Biological Diversity and ensure that all new bilateral ODA in 2023 aligned with the Paris Agreement.

4.5 Green climate fund

Established in 2010 by 194 countries party to the UNFCCC, the GCF is a global fund that aims to support developing countries to reduce global emissions and help communities adapt to the effects of climate change.[61] It does this by allocating resources to low-emission and climate-resilient projects and programmes in developing countries. The fund prioritises the needs of countries most exposed to climate change, especially LDCs, SIDS and African nations.

In September 2023, the prime minister, Rishi Sunak, announced that the UK would be contributing £1.62bn to the fund.[62] The government stated that this was the “biggest single funding commitment the UK has made to help the world tackle climate change”. The pledge represented a 12.7 percent increase on the UK’s previous contribution to the GCF for the period of 2020 to 2023.

5. Has the UK helped mitigate the impact of climate change on developing nations?

In April 2021, ahead of COP26, the House of Commons International Development Committee launched an inquiry examining the progress that the government had made relating to climate change and aid policy.[63]

The committee published its findings in October 2021.[64] The committee said that although it welcomed the then government’s actions on climate change adaptation and resilience, it expressed concern regarding the “neglect” of tackling local communities’ “root causes of vulnerability”; the “remaining bottlenecks” in accessing climate finance; and in building the capacity of LDCs and SIDS in addressing climate change.[65] The committee made several recommendations for the government, including calling for the creation of a climate and development minister at the FCDO, who would focus on adaptation and resilience, and for the UK to stop investing in the fossil fuel sector abroad, with the exception of support for clean cooking methods for people living in poverty.

The government published its response to the committee in January 2022.[66] The government welcomed the views of the committee and agreed that locally-led adaptation was “critical” for progress on adaptation and resilience. Responding to the committee’s recommendation for the creation of a climate and development minister, the government said that there was already “strong ministerial oversight” for this policy area, highlighting that at the time Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park, then a minister of state at the FCDO, had responsibility for climate and environment (including adaptation and resilience).[67] Addressing the committee’s recommendations on divesting from fossil fuels abroad, the government said that it partially agreed and that at COP26 it had launched the Energy Transition Council, which saw over 20 governments and 15 institutions participating, to support countries’ transitions to clean power.[68]

In September 2023, the Independent Commission for Aid Impact (ICAI) published a report collating its reviews into UK aid between August 2019 and August 2023.[69] The ICAI noted that this period had been “one of extraordinary turbulence for the UK aid programme, both globally and within the UK government”. This was due to what ICAI described as a number of “challenges”, including the Covid-19 pandemic and the Boris Johnson-led government reducing the UK’s aid-spending target to 0.5 percent of GNI.

Despite the challenges, the ICAI found that the UK had “helped galvanise action on climate change”, highlighting the UK’s work hosting COP26.[70] Additionally, the ICAI stated that UK aid had “helped leverage other finance and investment for climate change”, for example, in India, where the UK has worked in partnership with the Indian government and financial institutions to invest in green infrastructure companies.

However, the ICAI said that despite progress on climate change and biodiversity “further efforts” would be needed across UK aid-spending departments if the UK was to “deliver its ambitions in this area”.[71] It also found that the UK “had been slow to disburse” ICF funding following earlier commitments.

6. Read more

6.1 Library publications

6.2 Parliamentary questions and statements

Cover image by NASA.


  1. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, ‘Official development assistance: Definition and coverage’, accessed 19 December 2023. Return to text
  2. HC Hansard, 26 November 2020, cols 1018–40. Return to text
  3. HC Hansard, 13 July 2021, cols 173–230. See also: House of Commons Library, ‘The 0.7% aid target’, 4 December 2023. Return to text
  4. Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, ‘Statistics on international development: Final UK spend 2022’, September 2023, p 4. Return to text
  5. As above, p 10. Return to text
  6. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, ‘The 0.7 percent ODA/GNI target: A history’, accessed 21 December 2023. Return to text
  7. As above, p 12. Return to text
  8. As above, p 18. Return to text
  9. As above, pp 19–20. Return to text
  10. As above, p 22. Return to text
  11. As above, p 31. Return to text
  12. Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, ‘The UK’s official development assistance spend on in-donor refugee costs: Methodology report’, September 2023, p 7. Return to text
  13. Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, ‘Statistics on international development: Final UK aid spend 2022’, September 2023, p 32. Return to text
  14. As above, p 4. Return to text
  15. As above, p 12. Return to text
  16. As above, p 38. Return to text
  17. As above, p 52. Return to text
  18. Green Climate Fund Secretariat, ‘About GCF’, accessed 21 December 2023. Return to text
  19. Ahmadou Aly Mbaye and Landry Signé, ‘Renewing global climate change action for fragile and developing countries’, Brookings Institution, 14 November 2022. Return to text
  20. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, ‘Climate change 2023: Synthesis report’, 10 August 2023, p 51. Return to text
  21. As above, p 50. Return to text
  22. As above, p 51. Return to text
  23. As above, p 61. Return to text
  24. As above, p 92. Return to text
  25. British Red Cross, ‘Flooding in Pakistan: The latest news’, updated 30 August 2023. Return to text
  26. Lottie Butler and Simon Levey, ‘Climate change likely increased heavy rain that led to deadly floods in Pakistan’, Imperial College London, 22 September 2022. Return to text
  27. Muhammad Shehbaz Sharif, ‘Support for Pakistan has ebbed away—yet its deadly floodwaters have not’, Guardian, 6 January 2023. Return to text
  28. United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, ‘Afghanistan: The alarming effects of climate change’, 1 August 2023. Return to text
  29. United Nations Climate Change, ‘Conference of the Parties (COP)’, accessed 19 December 2023. Return to text
  30. National Archives, ‘COP26 goals’, accessed 19 December 2023. Return to text
  31. United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Secretariat, ‘Glasgow Climate Pact’, 13 November 2021, pp 3–4. Return to text
  32. United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Secretariat, ‘COP26 reaches consensus on key actions to address climate change’, 13 November 2021. Return to text
  33. Malachi Chadwick, ‘What happened at COP26?’, Greenpeace, 17 November 2021. Return to text
  34. United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, ‘COP27: What you need to know about this year’s big UN climate conference’, 28 October 2022. Return to text
  35. Nathan Cooper and Antonia Gawel, ‘COP27: Why it matters and five key areas for action’, World Economic Forum, 25 October 2022. Return to text
  36. United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Secretariat, ‘Sharm el-Sheikh implementation plan’, 20 November 2022, p 5. Return to text
  37. National Archives, ‘COP26 President Alok Sharma’s remarks at the COP27 closing plenary’, 20 November 2022. Return to text
  38. United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Secretariat, ‘COP28 UAE thematic program’, accessed 19 December 2023. Return to text
  39. United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Secretariat, ‘COP28 agreement signals “beginning of the end” of the fossil fuel era’, 13 December 2023. Return to text
  40. Nina Lakhani, ‘$700m pledged to loss and damage fund at COP28 covers less than 0.2% needed’, Guardian, 6 December 2023. Return to text
  41. United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Secretariat, ‘Paris Agreement’, 2015, p 3. Return to text
  42. Adam Morton, ‘COP28: Australia, US and UK say they won’t sign agreement that would be ‘death certificate’ for small islands’, Guardian, 11 December 2023. Return to text
  43. United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Secretariat, ‘COP28 agreement signals “beginning of the end” of the fossil fuel era’, 13  December 2023. Return to text
  44. Carbon Brief, ‘COP28: Key outcomes agreed at the UN climate talks in Dubai’, 13 December 2023. Return to text
  45. Alok Sharma, ‘Official X account’, 13 December 2023 (accessed 19 December 2023). Return to text
  46. Matt Reynolds, ‘A brilliant COP agreement? It depends who you ask’, Wired, 13 December 2023. Return to text
  47. Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, ‘International development in a contested world: Ending extreme poverty and tackling climate change’, 20 November 2023. Return to text
  48. As above, p 13. Return to text
  49. As above, p 25. Return to text
  50. As above, p 32. Return to text
  51. House of Commons International Development Committee, ‘Chair comments on the FCDO global development white paper’, 21 November 2023. Return to text
  52. Gideon Rabinowitz, ‘International development: Has it delivered on its ambitions?’, Bond, 20 November 2023. Return to text
  53. Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, ‘UK International climate finance results 2023’, updated 6 October 2023. Return to text
  54. As above. Return to text
  55. HM Government, ‘Together for people and planet: UK international climate finance strategy’, March 2023, p 6. Return to text
  56. Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, ‘UK small island developing states strategy 2022–2026’, 26 January 2023. Return to text
  57. Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, ‘The UK government’s strategy for international development’, May 2022. Return to text
  58. As above, p 5. Return to text
  59. As above, p 6. Return to text
  60. As above, pp 17–8. Return to text
  61. United Nations Environment Programme, ‘Green climate fund’, accessed 19 December 2023. Return to text
  62. Prime Minister’s Office, ‘Prime minister announces record climate aid commitment as G20 in India concludes’, 10 September 2023. Return to text
  63. House of Commons International Development Committee, ‘IDC launches climate change inquiry ahead of COP26’, 20 April 2021. Return to text
  64. House of Commons International Development Committee, ‘Global Britain in demand: UK climate action and international development around COP26’, 26 October 2021, HC 99 of session 2021–22. Return to text
  65. As above, p 6. Return to text
  66. House of Commons International Development Committee, ‘Global Britain in demand: UK climate action and international development around COP26—government response to the committee’s second report’, 14 January 2022, HC 1008 of session 2021–22. Return to text
  67. As above, p 12. Return to text
  68. As above, p 8. Return to text
  69. Independent Commission for Aid Impact, ‘UK aid under pressure: A synthesis of ICAI findings 2019 to 2023’, September 2023. Return to text
  70. As above, p 14. Return to text
  71. As above, p 15. Return to text