Nations to cut fossil fuel spending

Nations to cut fossil fuel spending

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GLASGOW, Scotland — The United States and 20 other countries announced Thursday that starting next year they would stop spending tax dollars to support international fossil fuel projects, a move the group said would divert $18 billion a year toward clean energy. The pledge comes just a day after even more nations agreed to restrict public financing for coal power.

The decision to curb public spending on fossil fuels — which came as negotiations were underway at a major U.N. climate conference in Glasgow — will further restrict investments in drilling, power plants and other projects by international development banks and other publicly funded institutions.

“The presumption has to be that direct finance and public finance towards energy in developing countries around the world has to be in the clean and green area,” John Morton, climate counselor for the U.S. Treasury Department, said at the announcement of the initiative Thursday.

Leaders of multilateral institutions, philanthropies and advocacy groups have urged the rapid phaseout of coal, oil and gas operations, arguing that if it is done right, consumers worldwide would be able to make the transition from the carbon-emitting present to a decarbonized future.

“Ending international finance for all unabated fossil fuels is the next critical frontier we must deliver on,” British Energy Minister Greg Hands said. “We must put public finance on the right side of history.”

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The move to restrict public money for all foreign fossil fuel projects doesn’t affect what countries do at home, nor does it include every major international funder of such efforts.

China, Japan and South Korea, which together comprise nearly half of international public funding for fossil fuel projects, did not join the pledge. And there appeared to be some loopholes. But proponents still said that it could send a positive message.

Officials also deflected concerns that the United States did not join a coalition of countries promising to eliminate coal from their power sectors.

Nigel Topping, the U.N.’s high-level climate action champion, noted that President Joe Biden has pledged to generate all U.S. electricity from clean sources by 2035 — a goal that necessarily involves phasing out coal. And economic forces have already curbed use of the world’s dirtiest fuel in the United States by more than half.

Another factor is the European Union’s plan for a carbon border adjustment mechanism, which would effectively tax products with high carbon contents and make access to the European market difficult. South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said this week that one reason for reaching a landmark deal this week to close coal plants and install renewables was that goods produced in South Africa’s coal-intensive economy could soon face trade barriers as a result of the new E.U. tax.

As negotiators at the climate summit in Glasgow looked for more ways to cut emissions, U.N. experts Thursday said the world must spend five to 10 times more helping vulnerable people adapt to inevitable environmental upheaval.

Already, millions are suffering amid prolonged droughts, catastrophic wildfires, chronic flooding and worsening storms brought about by rising temperatures, according to a new “Adaptation Report” released at the COP26 climate conference.

The threats will only intensify if emissions continue along their current trajectory, heating up the Earth by an estimated 4.9 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century.

“Climate change is happening, impacts are increasing now and today, and we’re going to be committed to these growing impacts for the foreseeable future, as long as we can actually imagine,” said Henry Neufeldt, chief editor of the U.N. Environment Program’s report.

“Adaptation is necessary,” he said, “even if we stopped emissions today.”

The separate commitment to phase out coal power and not invest further in it, announced late Wednesday, attracted 18 new countries, including Poland, Vietnam and Chile, all major coal consumers. They committed to phase out coal by the end of the 2030s for richer countries and a decade later for less-developed ones, though oil and gas was not covered, limiting the pledge’s ambition.

“Coal has no part to play in our future power generation,” British Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said in a statement. “The end of coal is in sight. The world is moving in the right direction, standing ready to seal coal’s fate.”

In the United States, Ashley Burke, spokeswoman for the National Mining Association, defended coal mines and power plants as “the building blocks of electric vehicles, solar panels and wind turbines.”

She said global emissions reductions couldn’t be achieved “without vastly more momentum around carbon capture development and deployment.” Burke pointed to the recent run-up in energy prices, saying that “targeting the fuels that are still keeping the lights on in much of the world, with no plan for what happens when the wind stops blowing, the sun stops shining and natural gas prices are sky high, is a road map for exorbitant energy prices.”

Information for this article was contributed by Maxine Joselow and William Booth of The Washington Post.

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