Blog / Jan. 23, 2020

Funding Fossil Fuels Overseas is Not Climate Leadership

“We all breathe the same air, we live beneath the same sky, and we all suffer when carbon emissions rise and the planet warms.”

This is what Boris Johnson said on Monday, when he announced an end to UK Government support for coal overseas. This might sound impressive, but the UK hasn’t funded an overseas coal plant since 2002, and continues to spend billions financing oil and gas across the world.

The Prime Minister is right – we do all suffer when carbon emissions rise. However, some of us suffer far more than others. The UK Government is a major player in funding fossil fuel projects all over the world, particularly in developing countries, where people are more vulnerable to climate change than in Britain.

The Government is under increasing pressure on this. Last year, the cross-party Environmental Audit Committee told them to clean up one of their dirtiest agencies, UK Export Finance (UKEF), which has given 97% of their energy support to fossil fuels. They refused, despite even the rare criticism of former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon.

The issue was the subject of tonight’s BBC Newsnight investigating UKEF, and the gigantic carbon footprint from the projects they have funded, all backed by the taxpayer.

At Global Witness, we have tracked the UK’s overseas fossil fuel spending for a long time. Growing public and media interest in this story should worry the Government.

As the clock ticks down to the COP26 UN Climate Conference in Glasgow, the pressure is ramping up on the Government to clean up its act. UK Export Finance is only one element of a programme of multi-billion-pound support for fossil fuels all over the world. This fossil fuel support means the UK’s overseas climate aid policy makes no sense.

International development organisations agree – the UK’s overseas fossil fuel support, whether through export finance or through aid spending, must end. Renewable energy is the best way to meet the needs of the world’s poorest.

Even members of the Prime Minister’s own party see the problem. Ted Christie-Miller, from the conservative think tank Onward, sums up the situation by saying, “there is no point keeping the house tidy if you are making the world a mess.”

The UK likes to say it is a climate leader – but there is no climate leadership that involves funding fossil fuels overseas and making climate change worse for the poorest people.

The UK can say it is a leader, or it can fund fossil fuels overseas – it can’t do both.

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