IIED responds to UK election outcome

News, 8 May 2015
Conservatives confirmed in UK general election majority win.

10 Downing St. creative commons, MOD

IIED hopes that the Conservative cabinet will demonstrate UK leadership on inclusive citizenship and green prosperity on the global stage.

In addition, the widespread victory of the Scottish National Party (SNP) adds an interesting new dynamic to Westminster politics, the impacts of which cannot be anticipated yet, however IIED hopes that the SNP's ambitious climate plans will spur on the UK government.

2015 is a landmark year for climate change and sustainable development. The global community must seize the opportunities before it this year to improve the lot of billions of people and take strides – not mere steps – towards a more equitable world for all. The decisions we make now will set the agenda for the next 15 years.

What are the global issues IIED considers to be most pressing at this time and what does the institute hope for from the new government?

Climate change

In February 2015, the three major parties agreed to honour the UK's climate change commitments undertaken as part of the European Union (EU) block. In a joint statement, David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg said that climate change threatens not just the environment but also security, prosperity and poverty eradication.

IIED reminds David Cameron of this statement and urges him to consider the EU commitment the minimum starting point. The SNP has stated that Scotland has the world's leading climate change targets: with a target of 42 per cent reduction in emissions against 1990 levels by 2020, they are ahead of the UK at 34 per cent and well ahead of the EU at 20 per cent.

The timetable for agreeing a new global climate agreement, new goals for sustainable development, and a new international disasters agreement in 2015 presents an historic opportunity to put both extreme poverty and net emissions on a path to zero.

The numbers of people in extreme poverty have fallen in the past two decades, bringing the possibility of ending extreme poverty within reach, yet climate change threatens to reverse development progress. Climate change will lower crop yields and food security, reduce the freshwater available for human needs, and lower fish stocks in the oceans.

The concept of ZeroZero is about increasing people's resilience, and doing it in a way that will also safeguard gains for future generations.

Poor people, whether in the UK or in developing countries will be hardest hit by the effects of climate change. The UK and Scottish governments should lead by example and make plans to leave our fossil fuels in the ground. However their climate pledges are at odds with last year's news that the UK government fast-tracked a proposal to drill fresh wells in the more 'geographically tricky' spots in the North Sea, in pursuit of a potential further 24 billion barrels of oil.

Overseas development assistance

In March this year, IIED warmly welcomed the news that Britain will become the first G7 country to enshrine its overseas aid commitment in line with the UN development spending goal.

IIED is calling for close scrutiny when funding climate change actions from this aid budget. The bill itself states that "official development assistance (ODA)… is spent efficiently and effectively; and for connected purposes". Britain is not alone in directing overseas aid to the Green Climate Fund. These climate adaptation funds should be used to ensure poverty reduction is also climate resilient.

Therefore, we call on the government to ensure funds for climate mitigation projects in middle income countries where the poverty reduction impacts are more debatable, are additional to the aid budget. Mitigation projects in these countries have co-benefits that can be linked back to our export markets, IIED believes a more transparent conversation should be undertaken about the boost it provides to the UK jobs sector.

The role of the UK in the SDGs

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have attracted criticism over the last few months, with much of the discussion centred on the breadth and scale of their complexity in comparison to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). However they have the huge advantage of having been negotiated by all UN member states, delivering far greater buy-in than the MDGs. 

The global problems we face today and tomorrow are as much an effect of over-consumption among the well off as they are of poverty amongst slum-dwellers. If we are to live successfully together on this shared planet, we must reconcile our common interest in a stable global climate with our very different contexts and priorities. The SDGs seek to build these bridges.

The SDGs establish ambitious sustainability goals for both poor and rich countries alike, a point IIED made when it submitted evidence on the UK government SDGs position to the Environmental Audit Committee in December 2014.

The UK government had – to date – seemingly viewed the SDGs as predominantly for developing countries, when in fact they are just as important for the UK itself. IIED calls for the new government to place a priority on enacting the SDGs domestically and overseas alike, applying them across all departments, affecting domestic policies and international trade and financial impacts as well as foreign aid. 

This more coherent approach would avoid the conflict currently very much in evidence in the last government’s policies. In the last few months of 2014 for example, the UK government pledged £720 million to the Green Climate Fund, while George Osborne announced in his Autumn Statement a series of tax breaks for fossil fuel companies. By tackling this at home, the UK will be taken more seriously by world leaders when calling for action on SDGs overseas.

Investment treaties

For decades, governments have concluded hundreds of investment treaties with very little citizen and parliamentary oversight. However throughout 2014, European citizens voiced increasingly loud concerns over two investment treaties: the widely contested Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA).

The TTIP mega-deal under negotiation between the EU and the US, and the lesser-cited but similar Canadian/EU CETA agreement raised serious fears in the UK and beyond as to the ramifications of the EU signing up to such a deal.

When an EC consultation on TTIP was undertaken, of the 150,000 responses given, over a third of them came from the UK. The chief area of concern was levelled at a chapter which is an equivalent to an investment treaty, such as the current UK-Ethiopia bilateral investment treaty (BIT).

IIED now calls on the new Government to apply this same degree of questioning and transparency to its own investment treaties, of which it has undertaken at least 105 BITs that we know of, all with low or middle-income countries.

It is expected that the UK-Ethiopia BIT will be the next UK BIT to be laid before parliament sometime in 2015. IIED believes the UK parliament should hold a full debate to interrogate this treaty and the rationale for its ratification and by doing so, make a clear statement about its intentions to encourage stronger corporate accountability and responsible payment of taxes in this interconnected, globalised world. 

Contact

Katharine Mansell
Media and external affairs manager

International Institute for Environment and Development
80-86 Gray’s Inn Road
London WC1X 8NH, UK.
Tel: +44 (0)20 3463 7399
Fax: +44 (0)20 3514 9055

Email: katharine.mansell@iied.org
www.iied.org

Notes to editors

The International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) is an independent, non-profit research institute. Set up in 1971 and based in London, IIED provides expertise and leadership in researching and achieving sustainable development (see: www.iied.org).

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