Wednesday

12th May 2021

Germany led EU's $5bn coal splurge

  • Coal is the most polluting of fossil fuels, yet governments still support the export of coal technologies. (Photo: AdamCohn)

A larger portion of EU taxpayers' money than previously thought was used in recent years as guarantee for the construction of coal-fired power plants.

According to a report by three environmental organisations, European governments supported their companies to export technology needed to construct coal plants with $5 billion (€4.6bn) in guarantees.

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Another $1 billion was allocated as guarantees for related activities, like coal mining.

The guarantees were given via export credit agencies, government organisations which provide preferential loans or guarantees to help a country's company be more competitive.

Germany is the largest European provider of funds through its export credit agencies, with a total of $3.29 billion in funding for coal projects.

Meanwhile, coal is the most polluting of fossil fuels, partly responsible for increasing the earth's temperature.

The report, by Natural Resources Defense Council, Oil Change International, and World Wide Fund for Nature, comes a day before ministers meet in Paris to discuss climate-friendly investments.

The authors calculated that countries that belong to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), together with Russia and China, approved $73 billion in coal financing via public institutions between 2007 and 2014, with Japan ($20 billion) as the largest contributor.

Almost half of the global subsidies - $34 billion - was provided via export credit agencies.

Transparency

The figure is “likely an underestimate” because of the opaque nature of the agencies, and is far larger than what was known until now.

In a recently leaked document, seen by the authors and this website, the OECD itself set the figure of coal support via credit agencies at just under $14 billion, for a longer period (2003-2013).

The authors noted that the OECD was able to document only 41 percent of the coal projects that they found.

“Export Credit Agencies, which are the major actors in this space, are so secretive that even their official multilateral coordinating body, the OECD Export Credit Group, does not have access to adequate data”, they write.

The OECD secretariat would prefer more transparency, it appears from the leaked document, which was dated 4 March 2015. The text noted "there would seem to be a pressing need to issue coherent, complete and accurate figures on official export credit support that is relevant to climate change issues".

The NGO report also calculated how much greenhouse gas was emitted in each of the eight documented years of public financing of coal projects: 441 million metric tonne of carbon dioxide equivalent a year, roughly the yearly emission of Italy.

Downward trend?

There was a significant decrease in public finance of coal from 2013 to 2014, when the total figure the researchers calculated, went from $10 billion to $6 billion, but the authors noted that the drop does not automatically mean the start of a long-term trend.

“It is also possible that full information for 2014 projects has not yet been made publicly available yet since it is the most recent year”, the report said.

In recent years, some countries have announced they want to end financing coal projects with public money, including the US, France, the UK, and the Netherlands.

However, there is little known progress on OECD discussions for rules that would restrict support for coal.

On Wednesday (3 June) and Thursday, finance, economy, and foreign ministers from OECD countries will meet in Paris to talk about climate-friendly investments.

“The issue [of export credit support] is not specifically on the agenda of the Ministerial meeting, although there are break-out groups for discussions among ministers and it may be raised there”, a spokesperson for the OECD told this website via e-mail.

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