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.”

 

 

 

Australia: plastic bag use cut by 80% over three months

In the last three months, plastic bag use in Australia has dropped by 80%. An estimated 1.5 billion bags have been prevented from use, after two of Australia’s largest supermarket chains, Coles and Woolworths banned them from their stores this summer.

Although the decision was initially met with public backlash, it was a decision quickly accepted, with some retailers “reporting reduction rates as high as 90 percent”, according the National Retail Association’s David Stout. The Australian public seemingly haven’t found it to difficult to adjust to the change, which requires them to either bring their own bags to shop with, or to purchase a reusable one for a certain fee.

It is estimated that there is 5.25 trillion pieces of trash in our oceans, the majority of that number being made up of plastics of various sizes, and bans such as these do a little to weaken the environmental blow caused by plastics. That being said, plastics pollution is still a very real problem and will be for a long time to come.

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Image taken from ‘Plastic Pollution in the World’s Oceans: More than 5 Trillion Plastic Pieces Weighing over 250,000 Tons Afloat at Sea‘.

There have been calls for the Australian government to promote a nationwide ban on plastic bags after pressure from environmentalists. The most populous state, New South Wales, is the only state that has no legislation in place currently ensuring it would phase out single-use plastic bags.

This news from Australia is not alone. According to reusable bag company ReuseThisBag, at least 32 countries have some form of ban or taxation in place, in an effort to limit the use and pollution of single-use plastic bags.

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Image taken from ReuseThisBag.com.

“We’re still seeing a lot of small to medium bags being used, especially in the food category, and whilst I get some comfort that the majors have done this voluntarily I think there still needs to be a ban in place,” Said Stout. “For business, for the environment, for the consumer and of course even for councils which have to work to remove these things from landfills, there’s a multitude of benefits on a whole to doing this.”

The United Kingdom currently has a tax on plastic bags which has resulted in more use of stronger, more durable reusable bags. Some parts of the United States also operate either partial bans or taxes, but legislation is not yet countrywide.

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Image taken from ReuseThisBag.com.

The average lifespan of a plastic bag is around 12 minutes, then it is discarded in a variety of ways. When discarded, they inevitably find their ways into green areas, or more likely, are washed into waterways. They are estimated to kill around 100,000 marine mammals every year, and when they do eventually break down, simply become smaller and smaller particles known as microplastics, which circulate the oceans and lie in landfills for anywhere up to 1,000 years.

Some may say that banning plastic bags doesn’t work. There hasn’t been a large amount of studies done on plastic pollution in relation to bans, but progress seems to have been made in some parts of the world. For example in San Jose, California, there has been an 60% reduction in plastic bags found in creeks and rivers since a ban was put in place in 2012. Similarly, in Seattle there has been a 76% decline in plastic bag waste since their banning five years ago.

While things are looking a little brighter in terms of plastic bag use, it is still crucial that each an every country introduces measures to limit all kinds of single-use plastic from being used. Every second, as many as 160,000 plastic bags are used globally, and unfortunately, only 1-3% of them are recycled. Click that link to see the amount of plastic bags being produced, the number currently stands at 4.6 trillion. This is neither sustainable or environmentally-friendly.

 

 

 

 

US donations to climate science denial organisations threatens UK environmental protection

During 2017, the United Kingdom’s major climate-science denial campaign group, the Global Warming Policy Foundation, (follow the link for an accurate description by DeSmog), recieved $177,001 in ‘grants and gifts’. At the time of writing, this is worth £137,900. These numbers were shown in the tax returns filed by the GWPF’s US-fundraising group, American Friends of the GWPF.

Another right-wing thinktanks, the Taxpayer’s Alliance, recieved around £223,300 from US-based donors within the last five years. An article published by the Guardian described the Taxpayer’s Alliance as “an “independent grassroots campaign” that speaks “for ordinary taxpayers fed up with government waste, increasing taxation, and a lack of transparency in all levels of government”. It keeps its donors secret, saying it respects their privacy.”

These two organisations, along with seven other right-wing thinktanks, were allegedly coordinating amongst themselves in order to push for a hard Brexit, a ruling that would have spelled disaster for UK environmentalists.

All this raises the concerns surrounding the influence of foreign money on issues surrounding environmentalism, such as when lobby groups push to cut regulations in order to implement trade deals with countries that have been named as major polluters. This was part of an alternative ‘Plan A+’ Brexit plan published in September backed by former foreign secretary Boris Johnson and former Brexit secretary David Davis. The report singled out environmental protection regulation as one that is “damaging to growth” and is “moving in an anti-competitive direction”.

Those behind the alternative Brexit plan see themselves as “supportive of environmental protection”, yet see aspects of the protection, the regulations that enforce that protection themselves as leading to the “increases in costs for many companies”. We see this as direct and willing hypocrisy. The plan describes environmental regulations as “somtimes valid attempts to deal with real environmental problems”, and that “frequently they are disguised methods of protectionism”.

The donations that the GWPF received are seen as a significant increase since the previous year. The tax regulations set up in the US require that the organisation declare how much it received, but holds no rules set up that require the source of the donations be included.

In an article recently published by  DeSmog, it was revealed just how much the network of US libertarian climate science denial campaign groups pushing for environmental derergulation post-Brexit, including the Heartland Institute and the Cato Institute, had increased their European activities coinciding with the time of the Brexit referendum.

“Brexit negotiations have created a policy vacuum at the very top of the UK government” stated the article, which in turn allows the space for the policies and ideas of these right-wing thinktanks to gain traction, pushing their ideologies through the donations of rich investors.

“As a result, powerful private lobbies have strived to fill that vacuum and advocated to slash regulation and environmental protection post-Brexit in order to strike trade deals. This includes the Koch brothers, the Mercer family and the Atlas network”.

It was estimated by Greenpeace that the Koch brothers had “sent at least $100,343,292 directly to 84 groups denying climate change science since 1997.”.

The prospect of the Brexit deal, recently put in place by Theresa May, has seemingly increased the amount of lobbying these organisations have been doing. Greenpeace’s Unearthed recently exposed the extent of influence this group, a group which in the UK bases itself in Tufton Street in London, has on cabinet members, including current environment minister Michael Gove.

The UK government has been warned that its environmental laws could be left suffering with “gaping holes”, allowing “polluters to go unpunished and depriving wildlife of vital protection after Brexit”. MPs from the Environmental Audit Committee found that the government had still not committed to replacing roughly a third of all environmental rules that cannot be transferred from the EU into UK law after Brexit. These laws cover air, water, chemicals, and waste disposal. While this gap remains, right-wing thinktanks use the aforementioned donations to weaken environmental regulation in the UK.

It is unfortunate that, as the contributors of these amounts are not obligated to reveal themselves, huge private interests are disguised, and will carry on presenting themselves as proponents and defenders of free-market ideology, all the while justifying the fore-planned dismantling of the United Kingdom’s environmental protection policies.