Goldsmith hints COP26 will deliver billions for nature

The UK’s diplomatic efforts are tantalisingly close to securing the Paris Agreement $100bn annual climate finance goal, according to environment minister Zac Goldsmith – hinting that the government’s spending review will boost investment in nature.

There have been some “very big” commitments recently, he told the Lords’ Energy and Climate Change Committee, from the US and EU member states, while indicating that some pledges had not yet been made public. “All the G7” have also committed to increasing climate aid, he added.

“I don’t want to be unnaturally optimistic… but I do know we are making good progress” towards the goal he told his fellow peers. Furthermore, “even bigger announcements” than the $10bn Bezos Earth Fund (launched by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos last year) will be made at the Glasgow talks, Goldsmith said, delivering “a lot more money for nature than has ever been available”.

He was reluctant to provide details in advance. All should become clear during the first Wednesday of COP26, 3 November, which is dedicated to financial issues.

READ MORE: ‘Coal, cars, cash and trees’: What to expect at COP26

However, “$100bn is just part of it” he added, referring to the need to increase spending on biodiversity. “Until we find a way to find make those living, breathing forests valuable … in the short term for local people… there’s always going to be a sword hanging over them. There’s a real challenge there,” he said.

On the UK’s own spending on biodiversity, he told the committee that, “I’m happy with where we are going but I’m not happy not where we are”. Goldsmith hopes that the spending review, to be announced just before the summit on 27 October, will “at least get closer to closing the gap between where we are and where we need to be in terms of? on financing nature.”

Opening this morning’s session, committee chair Baroness Parminter said that nine government departments had made submissions to its inquiry on delivering COP26 across government, each attempting to persuade the lords that they were taking credible action on climate change. Some had “more success than others” she said.

“I’d always want departments to do more,” replied the minister replied, stating that DEFRA is “cajoled” on climate issues by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, which has responsibility to ensure every department has a “credible plan” for net zero. There are “still questions” on how DEFRA will deliverdelivers this – for land management and waste in particular, he said, as “huge movements are going to be needed there”.

“My sense is that we are in a much better place now when it comes to joined up thinking across government,” Goldsmith said, ranging from delivery of COP26 itself to climate adaptation. But, “that is not to say that every department has the same level of enthusiasm”, he added.

Although the Treasury “has historically been a block” on climate action, he heaped praise on its new chief secretary, Simon Clarke MP, who is responsible for public expenditure. Appointed last month, he is “absolutely committed to the issues we are discussing now and has been for a very long time,” having led cross-party efforts to secure the net zero commitment, Goldsmith added, describing him as “a real ally in the Treasury”.

He added that the UK had assembled the “biggest international diplomatic team – climate attachés and so on – that has ever existed”.

Peter Hill, chief executive of COP26, said that there may be 200 people now in the central unit delivering the talks, a number that is growing as the event approaches.

But there are no plans to reduce this number after the summit closes, said Goldsmith. It had been “a concern of mine that we ratchet everything up… then afterwards the brightest and the best who have been seconded into this endeavour go back to what they were doing before.”

“The reassurance I have at the moment is that we are not going to see a massive scaling back after COP, as so much will be happening after that”, to monitor international compliance and the efforts of the private sector. “We are going to need to build that momentum almost exponentially,” he continued.

Lord Peter Lilley, whose appointment to the committee was criticised as a blow to the reputation of the House of Lords, went on to question the point of the UK spending “trillions of pounds reducing its emissions to zero, rather than devoting that money to adaption to the effects that the rest of the world” are producing?” He was one of the few MPs who voted against the 2008 Climate Change Bill.

Goldsmith gave him short shrift, saying that it would be “mad” to turn away from decarbonisation, comparing Lilley’s stance to keeping fax machines working in a world of email.

Reflecting on movements away from coal by a number of developing countries, he said that, “It is not the case that it’s the UK and the European Union and more recently the US that are doing the heavy lifting.”

“It’s not either deal with climate change or grow your economy. It is inconceivable I think that we won’t go through this low carbon transition – I think you would have to be pretty brave to bet that in 20 years’ time we are going to have something like the same fossil fuel global infrastructure we have at the moment. The market would certainly suggest otherwise,” Goldsmith argued.