Tories may sacrifice Africa to fund climate change fight

Author: By Andrew Grice, Political Editor and Michael Savage

A draft Tory policy statement, leaked to The Independent, reveals that a Tory
Government would give the Department for International Development (DFID) a
bigger role in helping developing countries meet the cost of combating
climate change. But aid groups fear this would be a cover for cutting funds
to Africa.

The Tories’ green paper, which will be launched on Monday by David Cameron,
will reiterate the party’s pledge to match Labour’s commitment to spend 0.7
per cent of national income on aid by 2013. Aid and National Health Service
budgets are the only two budgets which would be protected by an incoming
Cameron Government as it sought deep public spending cuts to balance the
nation’s books.

But the promise on aid has been called into question, with suspicions that the
party plans to funnel funds away from aid towards spending to fight global
warming. The Tory paper says: “Action to tackle and adapt to climate change
will permeate international development policy under a Conservative
Government. It requires a multi-faceted approach. We will mainstream
adaptation to the impacts of climate change throughout DFID’s work by
supporting development activities that reflect the changing nature of the
climate.”

Pressure groups are deeply concerned about the “mainstreaming” policy because
the document makes no mention of a ceiling on how much of the DFID budget
could be spent on climate change. Gordon Brown has promised a 10 per cent
cap if Labour retains power. He has proposed a £100bn climate change
adaptation fund as part of the negotiations on a new global deal to be
discussed at a summit in Copenhagen in December. There has been persistent
speculation in Tory circles that the party would try to spend less on
helping the world’s poorest countries.

Andrew Mitchell, the shadow Secretary of State for International Development,
said: “The Conservative Party is fully committed to tackling both the causes
and consequences of climate change, and the Department for International
Development has an important role to play in this. Above all we will push
for an ambitious international agreement that limits emissions and sees
substantial financial resources made available to help developing countries
adapt to the changing climate.”

Kevin Watkins, a director at UNESCO, said that the spending on climate change
could see the amount spent on traditional aid fall below the 2013 target.
“The 0.7 per cent commitment is not unequivocal,” he said. “The money spent
on climate change could take a big chunk of the department’s budget, meaning
aid will be hit.” Another aid agency head said yesterday: “It seems that the
Tories would divert a lot of money from aid to climate change, while keeping
the headline pledge on aid spending. That would mean a lot less help for
Africa.”

Aid groups are also worried about a Tory plan to offer “vouchers” to people in
poor countries so they could shop around for schools. They fear this could
undermine attempts to build up the state education system in developing
nations and help “middle class” children rather than the poorest. One aid
worker said this would boost private schools, describing it as “as assisted
places scheme for Africa.” Mr Watkins said that the Tory focus on vouchers
was “an absurdity” that would set back progress. “The idea that you can trot
around slums and dish out vouchers is so far fetched that it shouldn’t be
taken seriously.”

The Tory paper also suggests a key role for the private sector in improving
health care. Pressure groups say this could threaten a global drive towards
health care being free at the point of use. “Rather than aiming to replace
or eliminate the private sector from healthcare, we will seek to work with
governments and the private sector to help them achieve the Millennium
Development Goals,” the document states. “This could involve regulating
providers and creating a framework that allows both private and public
provision to grow in a coherent way, until ultimately people have access to
affordable healthcare.

“There are many different ways to provide healthcare. All health systems
feature a mixture of private and public provision. We will not insist that
developing countries follow the exact path that we in Britain have
taken?that is a choice for them to make.”

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