Climate crisis: Boris Johnson’s ‘no aid for coal’ promise branded a sham

Andrew Woodcock
Steam rises from the Jaenschwalde coal-fired power plant in Germany: Getty

Boris Johnson’s promise to stop spending aid money on coal has been branded a “sham”, after it emerged that no UK overseas assistance has been provided for the greenhouse gas-producing fuel since 2012.

Labour accused the prime minister of trying to “fool” voters about the government’s contribution to tackling climate change and called on him to now commit to ending support for all fossil fuel projects overseas – including oil, gas and fracking.

The vow not to spend “another penny of UK taxpayers’ money” on coal-mining or coal-fuelled power plants in the developing world was the prime minister’s keynote announcement at an African investment summit in London on Monday.

Telling his audience of African leaders that “we all breathe the same air, we live beneath the same sky and we all suffer when carbon emissions rise and the planet warms”, the PM said there would be no more direct aid, investment or trade credits for coal and the UK would instead focus on “supporting the transition to lower- and zero-carbon alternatives”

But within days, campaigners at Greenpeace revealed that the government’s UK Export Finance agency continues to invest billions of pounds in oil and gas energy projects which contribute to global warming.

And now international development minister Andrew Murrison has confirmed that no bilateral aid has been granted for coal-related projects for the last eight years.

In response to a demand from Labour’s shadow international development secretary Dan Carden to spell out the scale of aid funding for coal which would be stopped, Dr Murrison told MPs: “The Department for International Development (DFID) does not provide ODA bilateral assistance for coal and has not done so since 2012.

“In the multilateral development banks, we do not support coal projects except in rare circumstances and only for the poorest countries where there is no economical alternative.”

Dr Murrison said that Mr Johnson’s announcement would ensure that ministers will “review all coal and other fossil fuel projects” proposed for funding via the multilateral banks.

But Mr Carden said: “This sham announcement proves that Boris Johnson is trying to fool the British public about tackling the climate crisis.

“It is utterly shameless that this Tory government is willing to cook up false announcements in an attempt to trick the public into believing that it’s serious about pulling back from fossil fuels. We now know that no UK aid has been spent on coal in developing countries since 2012.

Johnson made the announcement at a recent summit in London (EPA)

“If the government genuinely cares about stopping the climate crisis, it must end its ongoing support for all fossil fuels overseas, including on gas, oil and fracking.”

An investigation by Greenpeace and the BBC’s Newsnight revealed just days after the coal announcement that UKEF was supporting fossil fuel projects abroad with total carbon emissions equivalent to one-sixth of the UK’s domestic production.

And Labour pointed to UK aid support via the CDC development finance institution worth $39m for an oil power plant in Guinea and a $25m loan for a liquefied natural gas terminal in Bangladesh.

A DFID spokesperson said: “At the summit the government announced it will no longer provide any new direct investment, export credit or trade promotion support for thermal coal mining and coal power plants overseas. This is about more than just aid.

“Our commitment is part of our strategy to help Africa move towards clean energy, through research, financing and investment in innovative environmentally-friendly projects.

“Climate change is the greatest challenge we face and this government is taking action to tackle it. We have already legislated to deliver net-zero emissions in the UK, becoming the first major economy to do so.”

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