UK funding overseas fossil fuel projects emitting millions of tonnes of emissions, investigation finds

Chiara Giordano
Stock image: iStock/Getty

The government is pumping billions of pounds into overseas fossil fuel projects that could emit up to 69 million tonnes of greenhouses gases every year, an investigation has found.

Earlier this week, the prime minister announced an immediate end to the use of UK taxpayers’ money to support coal mining and coal-fuelled power stations in developing countries in a bid to limit climate change and protect biodiversity.

However environmentalists called on Boris Johnson to also put an end to UK funding of overseas gas and oil energy projects – something he said the country would continue to support.

An investigation has revealed that UK Export Finance (UKEF), a small government agency in the Department for International Trade, has helped finance oil and gas projects that could emit up to 69 million tonnes of carbon every year.

This figure – which is said to be a “worst case scenario” – is equivalent to the amount emitted by a country the size of Portugal.

The joint probe by BBC Newsnight and Unearthed – Greenpeace’s investigations unit – also discovered UKEF has financed £6bn of fossil fuel projects around the world since 2010.

The money has helped fund schemes including oil wells and oil refineries in places such as Brazil and Oman, according to the investigation.

Last year, the government was accused of “utter hypocrisy” after rejecting calls from MPs to stop spending billions on overseas fossil fuel projects while claiming to be a leader in the fight against global warming.

Parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) warned Britain was sabotaging its climate credentials by paying out “unacceptably high” oil and gas subsidies in developing nations.

Reacting to the investigation’s revelations, Kerry McCarthy MP, a Labour member of the EAC, tweeted: “The government’s efforts to reach climate targets here in the UK count for virtually nothing if they’re spending £billions of UK taxpayers money on funding fossil fuel projects around the world, locking other countries into high carbon dependency for decades to come.”

Caroline Lucas MP, former leader of the Green Party, tweeted: “The prime minister’s promise of no more money for coal is hollow greenwash when UK export finance for oil & gas deals rose 5-fold in 2018/19.

“We’re hosting the UN climate summit @COP26 in November while fuelling dirty energy around the world. This is not climate leadership.”

Sam Hall, director of the Conservative Environment Network (CEN), said the government should “set a date for phasing out support for fossil fuel projects via UKEF” before the climate summit in Glasgow.

He added that the financial support was “undermining the amazing progress the UK is making on decarbonisation elsewhere”.

UKEF told BBC Newsnight: “We are committed to working with countries across the world to unlock their renewable energy potential and support their transition away from fossil fuels to cleaner alternatives.”

The Independent has approached UKEF for comment.

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