Canada, the United Kingdom, and three other wealthy nations whose rhetoric on climate action does not match their plans to expand fossil fuel production are undermining attempts to slow the climate crisis, a new report concludes.
As COP 26 delegates headed home Saturday after two weeks of heartfelt and sometimes rancorous debate, the scathing report gave them something to help while away the hours. The work of a team of U.K.-based researchers, it details how the behaviour of five wealthy nations, including the COP host, the U.K., amounts to telling the rest of the world very plainly: “Don’t do as we do, but be sure to do what we say.”
The five countries, the report says, plan to expand their production of the primary cause of climate change—fossil fuels—while their constant refrain at the COP has been to tell developing countries that they should shun them.
The report, The Fossil Fuelled 5, says the gap between climate rhetoric and reality is dangerously wide, with wealthy nations—Canada, the U.K., the United States, Norway, and Australia—planning to approve (and subsidize) new fossil fuel projects, a contradiction which it says undermines their recent claims of leadership in tackling the climate crisis.
The report analysed recent government announcements and the latest data on fossil fuel production. It says the five states are all wealthy fossil fuel-producing countries “with high levels of historic responsibility for the climate crisis, and low levels of dependence on fossil fuels for economic development.”
It concludes that:
• There is an alarming gap between what the Fossil Fuelled 5 are pledging to do to reduce their domestic emissions and their plans to expand fossil fuel production, undermining efforts to curtail global emissions and ignoring their responsibility to phase out fossil fuels, rapidly and justly.
• Coal, oil and gas production must fall globally by 69%, 31%, and 28% respectively between now and 2030 to keep alive the 1.5°C target agreed six years ago in Paris. But projections suggest the five states will reduce coal production by only 30%, and actually increase oil and gas production by 33% and 27%, respectively.
• Despite their net-zero targets and climate pledges, the report says, the five nations alone provided more than US$150 billion in public support for fossil fuel production and consumption during the COVID-19 pandemic, more than the entire G7 put towards clean energy as part of the pandemic recovery ($147 billion).
The Fossil Fuelled 5, released on the final day of COP 26, is shows that several of the world’s wealthiest nations “are doubling down on fossil fuel production,” which will “have disastrous impacts for all life on our planet, but especially those communities in the Global South who have done the least to create this crisis and have the fewest resources to adapt to its impacts.”
Despite their historical responsibility for emissions, and being well-placed to finance a global just transition, the authors say, these countries are also guilty of exporting large amounts of coal, oil, and gas, fuelling other countries’ dependence on dirty energy sources.
“There’s an alarming gap between what wealthy nations are saying and what they are doing,” Daley said. “You would expect these five nations to provide the leadership needed to move the global economy away from fossil fuels and reduce emissions to zero. However, they seem to be quite content to make pledges and promises with one hand, while expanding and subsidizing fossil fuel production to the tune of billions on the other.”
In addition to “jeopardizing their own futures and the futures of their citizens through this continued expansion,” he added, the five wealthy countries “are condemning communities in the Global South to a state of perpetual crisis which they did nothing to create. If these nations want to be climate pioneers, it is time they addressed the elephant in the room: fossil fuels.”
Specific analysis from the paper’s country profiles shows that:
• The U.S. has pledged to halve emissions by 2030, yet has simultaneously provided $20 billion in annual support to the fossil fuel industry.
• Despite hosting COP 26, the U.K. is expected to give the green light to the Cambo oil field, which contains about 255 million barrels of oil.
• Canada is looking to increase its price on carbon, but also provided approximately $17 billion in public finance to three fossil fuel pipelines between 2018 and 2020.
• Norway has raised its ambition to reduce emissions, but has already granted 60+ new licences for fossil fuel production and access to 84 new exploration zones in 2021 alone.
• Despite its recent commitment to net-zero by 2050, Australia has over 100 fossil fuel projects currently in the approval pipeline.
The paper was produced by the University of Sussex in cooperation with the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty (FFNPT) Initiative and regional partners in each of the five countries—Uplift (U.K.), Oil Change International (USA), Greenpeace (Norway), the Australia Institute (Australia), and Stand.earth (Canada).
“Canada claims to be a climate leader, yet its emissions have continued to rise since signing the Paris Agreement,” said FFNPT Initiative Chair Tzeporah Berman. “This is not surprising, given the unwillingness of political leaders to address the largest source of emissions—oil and gas. The Canadian government subsidizes the sector more than any other G20 nation.”
“The U.K. government has invested a lot in trying to persuade people that it is taking action to tackle the climate crisis, but while it is still opening up new oil and gas fields we can discount most of it as hot air,” said Uplift UK founder Tessa Khan. “Actions matter now, not words. Just stop talking, prime minister [Boris Johnson] and instead, stop Cambo.”
The report provides another wretched postscript to COP 26, and a further ominous warning for Johnson, who needed to be able to claim a political win in Glasgow. Far worse, it marks yet another setback for the hopes of the world’s poorest people, their livelihoods and, too often, their lives.