Reparations row hits Cop27: UK 'open to negotiations' on hefty climate payments to poorer nations, despite cuts at home

7 November 2022, 13:36 | Updated: 7 November 2022, 18:33

The UK is supportive of negotiations over climate change payments to poorer countries
The UK is supportive of negotiations over climate change payments to poorer countries. Picture: Getty

By Kit Heren

The British government is "open to negotiations" on big payouts to developing countries to help with the effects of climate change, a minister has said - despite former PM Boris Johnson arguing that the UK would not have the money.

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Business secretary Grant Shapps said the UK was "supportive of discussions" on climate reparations, while Labour and the Scottish National Party gave their full-throated support "in the spirit of solidarity" with developing countries.

Countries including Pakistan and Bangladesh, recently hit by devastating floods, as well as low-lying island nations like the Maldives and Vanuatu, reportedly want payments from richer countries to help mitigate the effects of climate change.

Children in Pakistan moving through floodwater this August
Children in Pakistan moving through floodwater this August. Picture: Getty

Developed countries like the UK have reportedly pushed back on the concept of climate reparations in the past, fearing that the payments could be the start of a slippery slope - but governments' positions are thought to be changing in light of recent catastrophic events like the Pakistan flood, the Telegraph reported.

British negotiators backed a last-minute agreement to address "loss and damage" payments at the Cop27 climate change summit on Sunday night, without including any concrete wording on figures.

Flooding in Bangladesh this October
Flooding in Bangladesh this October. Picture: Getty

The UK will be part of the two-week negotiating process over the course of the two-week summit.

The British negotiating team reportedly accepts that some payments will have to be made to cover the economic cost of climate change, which will reach around $1 trillion by 2050.

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has so far promised £65.5 million for green technologies in developing countries. The UK is also committing £90 million for conservation in the Congo Basin rainforest and £65 million to support indigenous and local forest communities.

The Telegraph reported that the PM is committed to scaling up support for poorer countries.

But former Prime Minister Boris Johnson played down the idea that the UK and other countries should pay reparations.

He said no countries, including the UK, had the "financial resources" to pay reparations. He called for governments to "look to the future" with technological solutions instead.

Rishi Sunak at Cop27 on Monday
Rishi Sunak at Cop27 on Monday. Picture: Getty

The UK is also facing a £50 billion budget black hole that Mr Sunak and chancellor Jeremy Hunt are considering filling by slashing services and raising taxes - including a reported raid on pension allowances.

Mr Shapps said on Monday that the government is "supportive of discussions" going on at Cop27 about the loss and damage payments.

He said: "We're accepting the principle there's a discussion to be had about this, and actually, in a sense, that's been accepted all along.

"Today for example, the Prime Minister's announcing over £65 million of assistance to developing countries to be able to produce energy in a sustainable way, there's been a tacit acceptance.

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"We industrialised first and we appreciate the rest of the world needs to be able to bring themselves along as well."

Asked if the payments could therefore happen, he added: "There is a big international discussion going on, that's one of the things happening at Cop27 in Egypt and we're supportive of discussions going on, that's the British position.

Opposition parties have called explicitly for countries like the UK to make payments.

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said there is an obligation on richer countries that have largely caused climate change to help those suffering the impact of it.

She said: "I think this Cop is an opportunity for the global north and the global south to come together and have a proper, grown-up conversation about how we make progress.

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"We've got to mitigate climate change, we've got to help countries adapt to the impacts of climate change, but as we've seen over the past year, not least in Pakistan, there are many parts of the world that are suffering loss and damage now that is irreversible and can't be mitigated against.

"There is an obligation in the spirit of solidarity for the richer countries that have largely caused climate change to now make a big effort to help those dealing with the impacts address that."

Labour's shadow environment secretary called reparations "morally right" for countries like the UK.

Grant Shapps said the UK was open to negotiations
Grant Shapps said the UK was open to negotiations. Picture: Getty

Ed Miliband told the BBC's Laura Kuenssberg on Sunday: "This is about the fact that poorer countries facing massive effects of climate change.

"We see it all around the world."This is about poorer countries on the frontline of the climate crisis.

"Pakistan had these disastrous floods recently, 30 percent of the country underwater."This is about global solidarity, yes we have some historical responsibility, but this is about global solidarity and it's absolutely part of our aid commitment.

"We don't think the Government was right to cut the 0.7 percent(of national income for foreign aid) commitment.

"Absolutely it's about supporting poorer countries.

"It's morally right and it's also in our self-interest too because if we don't act and if we don't help countries around the world, we're going to end up with the problems that countries face coming back to us."

A leading European politician called for rich countries including the UK to pay developing countries as they deal with the effects of climate change.

Asked if he supports wealthier nations paying reparations to developing countries to mitigate the effects of climate change Vice-President of the European Commission Frans Timmermans said: "I think the first thing we need to do is to do what we've promised. And that is to reach the $100 billion yearly to help with adaptation and mitigation.

"The EU is doing its part, we could be doing more, but I can only convince my member states to do more, if other major countries also step up to the plate.

"And this applies to the UK, this applies to the US to Canada to Australia, they're all not doing what they promised they would be doing. And if they could step up a bit at Sharm El-Sheik that would increase our credibility in the eyes of the developing world."

Asked if the UK needs to step up and pay reparations, he said: "Britain played an incredibly important role at Glasgow last year, which was a very successful COP. And one of the, I would say, the biggest diplomatic success the UK has had since Brexit.

And that comes also with a big responsibility on the shoulders of the UK to follow through, and we will be on the same side, and we need to we need to fight this fight together.

"And if we do that, we can convince the Americans, the Australians, the Canadians, the Chinese, the Saudis, the Russians and all the others who need to pay up to pay up."