The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Key nations agree to halt funding for new fossil fuel projects

The Group of Seven pledges to phase out unabated coal plants by 2035

The coal power plant of RWE, one of Europe's biggest electricity and gas companies, in Niederaussem, Germany, in 2016. (Wolfgang Rattay/Reuters)
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Top environmental ministers from the Group of Seven major industrial countries agreed Friday to end government financing for international coal-fired power generation and to accelerate the phasing out of unabated coal plants by the year 2035.

The group said that it would aim to have “predominantly decarbonized electricity sectors by 2035.”

The commitments on the phaseout of coal plants will particularly affect Japan, which relies heavily on coal-fired power plants.

Unabated coal plants include those that have not yet adopted technology for capturing and using carbon dioxide.

The G-7 ministers also said that new road vehicles in their countries would be “predominantly” zero-emissions vehicles by 2030, and that they plan to accelerate cuts in the use of Russian natural gas, which would be replaced by clean power in the long term.

The private sector in the major industrial countries must crank up financing, the ministers said, moving “from billions to trillions.” The group acknowledged the need laid out by the International Energy Agency for the G-7 economies to invest at least $1.3 trillion in renewable energy, tripling investments in clean power and electricity networks between 2021 and 2030.

“The G-7 committing to end public finance for fossil fuels and shift it to clean is a massive win,” Bronwen Tucker, public finance campaign co-manager at Oil Change International, said in a statement. “We now need concrete action, not just words.”

Friday’s commitments mark the latest in a global push for nations — and in particular the largest and wealthiest ones — to halt public funding for fossil fuel projects around the world, and to help developing countries grow their economies without relying on dirty fuels such as coal.

The effort has gained steam in recent years, even as the transition to cleaner forms of energy is not happening nearly as fast as scientists say is necessary for the world to meet the goals of the Paris climate agreement.

At a major U.N. climate conference last fall in Glasgow, dozens of countries pledged to phase out their use of coal. While nations such as Poland and Vietnam joined in that pact, some of the world’s biggest users of the planet-heating fuel, including China and the United States, did not sign onto the agreement.

The United States and nearly two dozens other nations did, however, embrace a separate agreement vowing to stop spending tax dollars to support international fossil fuel projects, a move the group said would divert $18 billion a year toward clean energy.

More than 20 countries at COP26 promise to end financing for international fossil fuel projects

That promise to restrict public money for foreign fossil fuel projects doesn’t affect what countries do at home. China, Japan and South Korea, which together make up nearly half of international public funding for fossil fuel projects, did not join that agreement at the climate conference, known as COP26.

While the final pact that nearly 200 nations agreed to in Glasgow included the first explicit mention of “coal” and “fossil fuel subsidies,” the language of that provision was watered down over the course of the summit. It ultimately called upon nations to “phase-down” rather than “phase-out” only “unabated” coal and “inefficient” fossil fuel subsidies.

Halting the flow of money to new fossil fuel development is essential to meeting the world’s climate goals, activists and analysts say. Last spring, the International Energy Agency published a “road map” to zeroing out carbon emissions by 2050; according to that plan, there should be no new development of fossil fuel supplies after that year.

But the world still depends heavily on fossil fuels, especially the globe’s biggest emitters.

When U.S. greenhouse gas emissions roared back in 2021 after a brief drop during the early phase of the coronavirus pandemic, a significant factor was a 17 percent surge in coal-fired electricity, according to an analysis by the Rhodium Group.

And last November, Chinese officials reported that their coal production surged to its highest level in years, the same day that officials in India’s capital readied a shutdown due to air pollution.

But while the shift has been slow and uneven, some countries have forged ahead in their efforts to scale back their reliance on fossil fuels.

For instance, the government in Britain recently proposed a windfall profits tax in the form of a 25 percent surcharge on “the extraordinary profits the oil and gas sector is making.” It would raise 5 million pounds that would go to help citizens pay for the cost of living. At the same time, the government is proposing a “super deduction” to encourage oil and gas companies to invest in projects in the United Kingdom. The deduction would double tax relief for companies investing in the United Kingdom, covering 91 percent of those investments.

Alden Meyer, senior associate at climate think tank E3G, said it is critical that G-7 leaders find ways to accelerate the shift to cleaner energy this decade.

“We needed to see a commitment by G7 countries to fully decarbonize their electricity sector and to phase out use of coal by 2030,” he said in an email.

Even as many developed economies are beginning to move to cleaner forms of energy and reduce their overall emissions over time, it is in the developing world that scientists and environmental advocates say serious funding is needed to help nations develop in greener ways and avoid locking in fossil fuel infrastructure.

The world’s richest nations have pledged repeatedly to provide at least $100 billion annually in climate financing to help poorer countries deal with the impacts of climate change and boost clean energy — even though that is only a fraction of the funding needed for such goals.

But the developed world has yet to fulfill that promise. Even President Biden, who has asked for more than $11 billion each year in such funding, has not persuaded Congress to provide such an amount.

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