Britain will take money it had earmarked for poor countries to cope with climate change and give it to Ukraine as part of a £1 billion military aid drive.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the commitment Thursday at the NATO summit in Madrid — bringing the U.K.’s total military support of Ukraine since Russia’s invasion to £2.3 billion.
“U.K. weapons, equipment and training are transforming Ukraine’s defenses against this onslaught,” Johnson said.
Kwasi Kwarteng, the business secretary, in a tweet called the initiative “vital” and spelled out where some of the money was coming from. “My Department has contributed to the effort by surrendering climate finance and foreign aid underspends.”
As part of its U.N. climate presidency, which began with the COP26 global summit in November and runs throughout 2022, the U.K. cajoled other rich countries to raise their spending to assist poorer countries to build defenses against rising seas and extreme weather, or to green their energy systems.
Climate finance experts condemned Johnson’s spending shift.
Vladislav Kaim, a Moldovan youth climate adviser to U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres, denounced Kwarteng’s comments that the U.K. has a climate underspend, saying it “sounds obscene, and using help to the people of Ukraine as a shield against criticism on this is double obscene.” He pointed out that the rich world has failed to deliver on a promised $100 billion a year in climate finance.
The U.K. has fallen short of spending all of its allocated budget on climate finance in the past, according to the Overseas Development Institute. The Treasury also cut the U.K.’s overall foreign aid budget last year.
“Underspending against already inadequate commitments is hardly something to be proud of,” said Sarah Colenbrander, director of the development institute’s climate program. “Particularly when global investments in clean energy and energy efficiency would only enhance energy security. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, financed by its oil and gas exports, should underscore the urgency of accelerating the low-carbon transition rather than offer an excuse to re-purpose climate finance.”
A spokesperson for Kwarteng’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy refused to say how large the current underspend on climate finance or aid was, nor how much the office had diverted to the call for military aid.
Johnson said Russia’s attacks on the Ukrainian people — including Monday’s missile attack on a shopping center — had become “increasingly barbaric.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy praised London for sending more weapons to help combat Russia, calling the U.K. “our true friend and strategic partner.”