The Boris Johnson government is facing charges of hypocrisy, after a report by the BBC and the investigative news arm of Greenpeace UK, Unearthed, revealed billions of dollars in public financing for overseas oil and gas projects, enough to trigger 69 megatonnes of carbon pollution per year.
“As the UK prepares to host a major climate summit in Glasgow at the end of 2020, Boris Johnson promised the government will no longer support coal mines or coal plants overseas,” Unearthed reports. “But it has not financed one since 2002, and an Unearthed investigation in conjunction with BBC Newsnight has revealed that the overseas fossil fuel projects it is supporting will emit greenhouse gases equivalent to 17 coal plants.”
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The issue came into sharp focus last week, with Unearthed and BBC releasing their exposé days after Johnson hosted a UK-Africa investment summit where more than 90% of the energy deals reached were for fossil fuels.
“We all breathe the same air, we live beneath the same sky, and we all suffer when carbon emissions rise and the planet warms,” Johnson said in his opening remarks.
“But the commercial energy deals revealed later were dominated by oil and gas production,” The Guardian says. “The official UK government statement on the summit and a press release failed to mention these, citing only the far smaller support for clean energy.”
The “hypocrisy of the government’s position is breathtaking,” said Greens MP Caroline Lucas.
In the Unearthed/BBC analysis, the more recent loans and loan guarantees in the UK Export Finance (UKEF) portfolio are all oil and gas projects, though government documents show the agency considering a project connected to a “huge coal-powered mine in Mongolia,” Unearthed writes.
All told, the total government investment around the world could hit £6 billion. “As well as the 69 million tonnes of greenhouse gases that will be emitted by projects for which UKEF could be on the hook, the agency has said it is formally considering more fossil fuel projects which would emit at least another 20.6 million tonnes, equivalent to five coal plants,” the publication states. “Other projects still in the early stages—such as that in Mongolia—could drive up the tally further.”
The story cites a UKEF source defending the subsidies as a way to sustain UK jobs against low oil prices, adding that the agency has also funnelled £277.6 million in the last three months to an offshore wind farm off the Taiwan coast and two solar plants in Spain. But a Parliamentary audit committee found that 96% of UKEF’s energy investments from 2013 to 2017 went to fossil projects.
“The UK is in a great position to show global leadership on the climate emergency, as we host the UN climate conference later this year,” said Labour MP Kerry McCarthy, who sat on the audit committee. “But we will have zero credibility on the issue if we continue to fund fossil fuel projects overseas, locking other countries into high carbon dependency for many years to come.”
In addition to the Mongolia project, a copper mine to be powered by a separately-funded, 300-MW coal plant, the news exposé covers a natural gas drilling project in the Mozambique Channel, a new oil refinery and steam cracker in Malaysia, and a petrochemical complex in Egypt.
“Channelling taxpayers’ money to support such damaging schemes, which would do so much harm to our climate, is deeply hypocritical and would undermine the UK’s international standing at the very time when we should be leading the global climate effort ahead of the crucial UN climate summit in Glasgow later this year,” said Lisa Nandy, Labour’s former shadow energy secretary.
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