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Hidden government agency makes a mockery of UK climate pledges

Whilst the Conservatives try to paint themselves ‘green’, a quiet announcement this week shows their government's climate commitments up as more hot air.

Adam McGibbon
2 October 2019
Lurio river, Mozambique. Concerns have been raised about the impact of the proposed LNG development on local air and water pollution
Lurio river, Mozambique. Concerns have been raised about the impact of the proposed LNG development on local air and water pollution
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Stig Nygaard/WikiCommons, CC 2.0

In the face of a ferocious and inspiring global movement demanding real action on climate change, the UK Government has been keen to big up its own green credentials. The Conservatives have attempted to make the climate a key theme at its Annual Conference, including the apparent rejection of disposable coffee cups. And last week at the UN Climate Summit Boris Johnson pledged £1.2 billion for ‘British scientists and innovators…to create new technology to help developing countries reduce their emissions and meet global climate change targets.’

But this rather limp announcement, addressing the optics of disposable coffee cups and other meagre measures do nothing to address how an obscure government agency, UK Export Finance (UKEF), is making a mockery of all current and future UK climate aid plans.

In June this year the cross-party Environmental Audit Committee published the findings of its inquiry into UK Export Finance and called on the Government to stop financing all overseas fossil fuel projects by the end of 2021. In a quiet announcement this week, the Government responded to that recommendation with an unequivocal no, therefore committing to continue subsidising multi-billion-pound fossil fuel projects around the world.

UK Export Finance, a government agency that promotes British exports by providing financial guarantees and insurance, is currently considering whether to support a massive gas project in Mozambique.

Mozambique is one of the world’s poorest countries. UKEF support will aid construction of offshore gas extraction and onshore production facilities in Cabo Delgado Province. This will enable the export of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG), an extremely polluting fossil fuel. There are already concerns about land grabbing, displacement of local communities and the risks of land and water pollution. The venture will not benefit the people of Mozambique. It will benefit Anadarko, Oil India and the other climate-wrecking multinationals who own the project.

If we want to keep to the Paris Agreement targets of 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, the world cannot build any new gas infrastructure, anywhere.

Even on its own, this project is a climate disaster. However, it is not a one-off. UK Export Finance give 97% of their energy support to fossil fuels, mostly to developing countries, locking the most vulnerable into fossil fuel development. Their books are full of similarly dirty projects, like the £4 billion Bahrain oil refinery that UKEF announced they were considering support for just days after the world’s scientists issued their bleak assessment of the risks of catastrophic climate breakdown.

So Johnson’s announcement in New York of £1.2 billion in extra funding for developing countries is fatally undermined before a pound is spent. This is further compounded by the Government refusing to take any responsibility for the emissions the UK finances around the world. Climate aid for developing countries is useless while the UK is still funding billions in fossil fuel projects in developing countries, locking them in to dirty development.

Global Witness research shows that from 2010-16, UKEF supported £4.8 billion in fossil fuel projects. Meanwhile, across a similar period, the UK spent £4.9 billion on climate aid via its International Climate Fund.

This total contradiction across Government departments makes the British Government look like hypocrites in the run-up to the UN Climate Conference in Glasgow at the end of 2020. It’s not just British MPs and organisations like Global Witness that have criticised this hypocrisy. The former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, Former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson and Elders member (and Nelson Mandela’s widow) Graca Machel have all voiced concerns at the UK subsidising fossil fuels.

The UK likes to think it is a ‘climate leader’ – but in reality they’re lagging far behind, and are amongst the world leaders for providing fossil fuel subsidies. The UK needs to end all overseas fossil fuel investment, an achievable goal ahead of the 2020 Glasgow summit, and it needs to take up the committee’s recommendation to phase out fossil fuel support by 2021.

The International Energy Agency noted in its 2018 World Energy Review that energy investment is ‘increasingly underpinned by governments’ rather than the private sector. This means Governments get to decide whether to invest in a clean energy future or subsidise dirty, expensive, polluting fossil fuels. Governments have to lead and cut off the finance to the fossil fuel industry.

The British Government has the chance to become global leaders and kick off a chain reaction of other governments ending their overseas fossil fuel support. Will they? The world is watching.

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