Climate change: UK to end aid for fossil fuel projects abroad

As the UK hosts a key climate summit, the government announces an end to funding for overseas oil and gas.

Dec. 12, 2020 6 minSource

As the UK hosts a key climate summit, the government has announced that it will end direct support for overseas fossil fuel projects.

The move means the UK will no longer provide export finance or aid funding for oil, gas or coal projects.

The statement comes as the UK, France and the UN host a virtual climate meeting later today.

Around 75 world leaders will attend, marking five years since the adoption of the Paris climate agreement.

The UK government's practice of supporting overseas fossil fuel projects through export finance, aid funding and trade promotion has long been controversial .

As the UK moved away from coal, oil and gas at home it was seen as hypocritical to be financing these projects abroad.

Now the Prime Minister has agreed to end this practice as soon as possible.

"Climate change is one of the great global challenges of our age, and it is already costing lives and livelihoods the world over, our actions as leaders must be driven not by timidity or caution, but by ambition on a truly grand scale," Boris Johnson said.

"That is why the UK recently led the way with a bold new commitment to reduce emissions by at least 68% by 2030, and why I'm pleased to say today that the UK will end taxpayer support for fossil fuel projects overseas as soon as possible."

The announcement has been made as the UK hosts a climate ambition summit.

This virtual gathering is taking place after the pandemic caused the postponement of the annual Conference of the Parties, due to take place in Glasgow this year.

The UK says that today's short, action-oriented summit will put a premium on new commitments from countries.

Around 70 leaders from all over the world will take part, including the Secretary-General of the United Nations, and President Macron of France. Pope Francis will also address the meeting.

The UK will point to its new commitment on overseas fossil fuel projects as well as a new carbon cutting target of 68% by 2030 , announced last week by the Prime Minister.

The EU will also present a new 2030 target of a 55% cut in emissions , agreed after all night negotiations this week.

China and India will also be taking part, though the extent of their new commitments is not clear.

Australia had held out the promise of not using old carbon credits to meet future cuts in emissions.

But the UK felt that this didn't go far enough and the Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison won't be taking part.

Russia, South Africa and Saudi Arabia won't be involved either.

Some observers believe this hard line is justified.

"From a kind of symbolic procedural point of view, it's good to have everybody on board," said Prof Heike Schroeder from the University of East Anglia.

"But from a proactive, creating some kind of sense of urgency approach it also makes sense to say we only get to hear from you if you have something new to say."

The UK wants the focus to be on the countries who are set to make new net-zero announcements, or present new plans for 2030.

Indeed a range of smaller countries and island states will be among those presenting new plans at the summit.

"If the least developed countries can do this, so can the richest countries," said Andrew Norton, from the International Institute for Environment and Development.

"The big emitters, including laggards such as Russia, Australia and Brazil, need to pick up the pace and take credible steps to make the cuts that are urgently needed to keep global temperature rise below 1.5C."

The five years since the Paris agreement was adopted have been the warmest on record , according to the World Meteorological Organisation, and emissions have continued to accrue in the atmosphere.

Over that period, many countries and businesses have started the process of decarbonisation.

The progress they've made now needs to be acknowledged and encouraged, says former UN climate chief Christiana Figueres.

"For this Saturday, they are focussing on the reduction of emissions, and that is a good thing because that progress that's been seen in the real economy has to be reflected and incentivised further by those additional commitments."

One area that's unlikely to yield any progress at this meeting is the question of finance. Rich countries have promised to mobilise $100bn a year from 2020 under the Paris agreement - but the commitments on cash are just not forthcoming.

Despite this major drawback, many in the international climate community will approach this meeting in a positive frame of mind.

The last six months have seen long term goals set by China, Japan and Korea - and the election of a climate friendly President in the US.

"We saw a wonderful momentum prior to Paris. And I feel it in a way that we are now again in a time where things become do-able," said Jochen Flasbarth, State Secretary at the Federal Ministry of Environment, Germany.

"I hope others who are a bit away, that they come back and are very committed, as well."

"So I'm quite optimistic at the end of this year."

Follow Matt on Twitter @mattmcgrathBBC .

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