EU report names the UK as largest contributor of fossil fuel subsidies

A new report published by the European Commission, has shown that the UK has the largest amount of fossil fuel subsides in the EU, finding that £10.5 billion a year supports fossil fuels in the UK. This is in contrast to the £7.2 billion given to renewable energy. These remain at the same level as 2008.

What these subsidies do is act as an hindrance to what both the EU and the G20 pledged  in 2009 to do; phase out subsidies for fossil fuels in efforts to transition to renewable green energy.

While such policies are being pursued with intent to cut carbon emissions in an effort to meet the 2C warming limit set by the Paris Climate Agreement, fossil fuel subsidies within the EU have not decreased. The report stated that “EU and national policies might need to be reinforced to phase out such subsidies.”

“Spiralling climate change is going to cost people and our economy huge sums of money, through the damage, disruption and instability it causes.” said Friends of the Earth CEO Craig Bennett. “It’s astonishing that the UK government is still throwing taxpayers’ money at some of the world’s largest oil and gas companies. Ministers must switch funding to rapidly boost energy efficiency and renewables.”

The report stated that €55bn was given as fossil fuel subsidies in 2016, and that “Overall European energy subsidies have increased in recent years, from EUR 148 bn in 2008 to EUR 169 bn in 2016”. The UK, France, The Netherlands, Sweden, and Ireland gave the most in subsidies to fossil fuels, while Germany provided the highest amount for renewables, at €27bn.

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Financial support to fossil fuels in the EU- Source: EC, Trinomics

While the news of the UK’s fossil fuel obsession is bleak, the renewable sector is looking promising. “The increase was driven by the growth in renewable energy subsidies which reached EUR 76 bn in 2016.” stated the report. 45% of the subsidies over the EU went to renewable energy, compared to 33% for fossil fuels.

“Renewable energy growth also plays a direct role in mitigating and diminishing the negative impact of uncertain global fossil fuel prices and exchange rate risks. Thus, the ambitious 2030 renewable energy and energy efficiency targets recently agreed will help reduce the EU’s dependence on fossil fuel imports and vulnerability to global fossil fuel price shocks and uncertainty.”

“At the same time, energy efficiency and renewable energy investments set the EU on the path to compliance with the Paris Agreement and will stimulate the innovation needed to achieve the energy transformation.”

“We do not subsidise fossil fuels,” a government spokeswoman said. “We’re firmly committed to tackling climate change by using renewables, storage, interconnectors, new nuclear and more to deliver a secure and dynamic energy market at the least possible cost for consumers.” This claim is based on how the UK government defines ‘subsidy’. It is however, false. The WTO definition of ‘subsidy’ includes the definition “government revenue that is otherwise due, foregone or not collected”.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Phillip Hammond, said in September that the UK government had ‘forgone’ around £46 billion after it chose not to implement a scheduled rise in fuel duty, in apparent efforts to keep bills down. Germany and Italy call tax breaks, such as this decision to not raise fuel duties, ‘subsidies’. Providing a semantic smokescreen for fossil fuel subsidies is nothing more than “playing games”, as put by Shelagh Whitley of the Overseas Development Institute, who went on to say that the government’s claim of providing no fossil fuel subsidies was simply “continuing to prop up a centuries old energy system.”

 

 

 

“Completely inconsistent” EU coal deal fails to deal with coal subsidies

Analysts have stated that an EU deal to phase out coal subsidies within the Paris Climate Agreement is “completely inconsistent”.

Negotiations at COP24 ended on Wednesday. A benchmark CO2 emissions standard of 550 grams per kWh for all European power plants has been set, with limitations set to be in effect by 2025. Unfortunately, a loophole has been secured by Poland, a coal-dependent country, which allows countries another year to negotiate new ‘capacity mechanisms’ that would be exempt from the deadline. This may allow for unprofitable coal plants to keep operating until 2035, which is five years after the projected cut-off for meeting the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement.

“Continued support for coal as just agreed by the EU is completely inconsistent with meeting the Paris agreement goals and in particular with limiting warming to 1.5C [above pre-industrial levels].” said Bill Hare, the director of the Climate Analytics thinktank. “It appears to be a de facto rejection of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change finding that coal needs to exit the power sector rapidly. In the EU this means by 2030.”

After the deal was signed, the EU’s climate commissioner, Miguel Arias Cañete, tweeted “A more flexible market will facilitate the integration of more renewables. We also limit capacity mechanisms and #support5050 to move #BeyondCoal. #CleanEnergyEU completed.”

https://twitter.com/MAC_europa/status/1075184954357805057

This has not been met with universal support. Environmental campaigners Greenpeace have said that the proposed capacity mechanisms and stay of execution for subsidies levied on the coal industry showed unequivocally that many EU governments were still not fully serious about or dedicated to tackling climate breakdown.

The deal “will help the transformation to cleaner electricity production” said MEP Krišjānis Kariņš. “It will open up more competition in electricity across the EU border – good for the climate and good for the wallet”.

Green MEP Florent Marcellesi said that the delayed introductions of an emissions standard guaranteed “a free licence to go on polluting despite the impact on climate and public health”, meaning that the deal is ‘insufficient’ to meet the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement.

“The cost-optimal pathways show that to be in line with the Paris Agreement, the OECD and EU countries need to phase out coal the fastest – by 2030. China would need to phase out coal around 2040, and the rest of the world by 2050.”

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Image taken from Climate Analytics

 

200 cross-party MPs pledge to divest parliament from fossil fuels

Around 200 MPs and former MPs have come together to sign the Divest Parliament Pledge, a pledge calling on the MP’s Pension Fund to divest from fossil fuel companies.

This announcement comes at the same time as global leaders meet for COP24, the climate change summit in Katowice, Poland, to develop plans to actualise on the global heating limitations set out in the Paris Climate Agreement in 2015. As the recent IPCC report stated that we only have 12 years to mitigate the worst of greenhouse gas emissions and global heating, this act from MPs is greatly welcomed.

“We’re now a 200 strong cohort of cross-party MPs who believe it is morally indefensible for Parliamentarians to be investing in companies which profit from wrecking our planet.” Said Green Party MP for Brighton Palivion. “MPs have a duty to take action to prevent the worst of climate change. One simple step we can take is ditching our investments in fossil fuels – and instead invest in clean, renewable energy, and low-carbon technologies”.

If this Divest Parliament Pledge is successful, Parliament would join the Irish National Infrastructure Fund, The New York State Pension fun, and two-thirds of UK universities committed to fossil fuel divestment.

Amongst those MPs that have signed the pledge are Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn, SNP MP Mhairi Black, Labour MP David Lammy, and former conservative MP Lord Deben. You can find a full list of MPs who have signed the pledge here, and use the site to inform your local MP if they have not already signed.

“Preventing disastrous climate change will be the defining challenge of the next decade for world leaders.” Said Lord Deben. “The UK must show leadership by demonstrating that we are prepared to make the necessary choices. This includes moving investment out of fossil fuels and towards renewables that are already proving that they can be built at the scale needed to power our homes and businesses. Moving quickly towards the Paris goals is the best way to protect our health and our prosperity for many generations to come.”

Since December 2017, the amount of MPs signing the pledge has doubled, with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn being the 100th person to sign. 23 out of 25 SNP MPs have signed, alongside 11 out of 12 Liberal Democrat MPs, including party leader Sir Vince Cable.

Of the MPs that have signed the pledge, roughly 59% are Labour. Conservatives make up roughly 7%, Liberal Democrats 8%, SNP members make up 15%, and other parties make up 20%.

The campaign itself was started in 2014, by a small group of MPs that included Caroline Lucas. The campaign’s first success was to ensure that the trustees of the MPs Pension Fund disclosed its investments. This revealed that the largest individual holding is in British Petroleum, valued at £7.33 million. It also revealed investments in Royal Dutch Shell A at £3.67 million, Rio Tinto at £3.67 million, Royal Dutch Shell B at £2.93 million, and Total SA at £2.93 million, amongst others.

The campaign for transforming our current economy into a green economy had been rhetoric for some time, but now is seemingly becoming actualised, however slowly. Carbon-based fossil fuels drove the first industrial revolution, but have no become part of our downfall, as global temperatures rise, extreme weather events becomes more and more often, and refugees are forced from their homes at the hands of climate breakdown. What we need is a new energy revolution. Divestment is the first step towards this.

The current UK government may employ a green rhetoric, but it’s record is far from clean. Only recently did the Conservative government ratify Caudrilla’s bid to frack for shale gas in the northern county of Lancashire, despite the local council’s attempts to block it. Fortunately, more and more conservative party members seem to be turning away from Fracking.

The government’s Clean Growth Strategy admitted that the measures it had recommended to fulfil the fourth and fifth carbon budgets set by the Paris Climate Agreement would not be enough. This is a legally binding contract, limiting by law the amount of greenhouse gas emissions that can be emitted in a five-year period.

This campaign is the fastest growing divestment movement of all time, which has seen more than $5tn of assets divested across more than 800 institutions.” writes Rebecca Long-Bailey, MP for Salford & Eccles. “Campaigning for our universities, workplaces, unions, and pension funds to divest is one important way we can help to build a more sustainable society. Parliament must play its part.