New report: G20 still spending big on keeping coal-fired power alive

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Rod Walton
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From the Paris Accord and beyond, developed countries have talked the talk about climate change and phasing out coal-fired power generation. The evidence is utilities and governments retiring or pledging to close coal-fired plants sooner than later.

But it's their money walking the walk, according to a critical new report.

The findings by the National Resources Defense Council, the International Institute for Sustainable Development and research firm Oil Change International indicate that, after a decade’s worth of promises on carbon reduction, the world’s top 20 economies are still spending plenty on securing fossil fuels.

In fact, G20 nations are spending at least $63.9 billion (U.S.) per year in subsidies on coal alone, according to the NRDC-IISD-OCI report. This average includes $27.6 billion in public finance, $15.4 billion in fiscal supports and nearly $21 billion in state-owned enterprise investments per year across the G20, the report’s summary says.

 “This includes support through a wide range of instruments to prop up coal production, coal-fired power production, and other consumption of coal and coal-fired power, as well as support which is justified as a means of facilitating the transition away from coal,” the summary reads. “It must be noted that these figures are likely to significantly underestimate the actual amounts of support provided…"

Coal-fired power is under enormous political and environmental pressure, but it remains a tremendous portion of the global electricity mix. In the U.S., President Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency recently finalized the coal-friendly Affordable Clean Energy plan, which gives the states more power to legislate carbon emissions and erases the Obama-era Clean Power Plan which set stringent federal rules for states.

It’s Asia, however, which really leads in the financial support for coal-fired power. Japan, host of the G20 this year, allocates $5.2 billion annually for public finance of coal overseas, according to the NRDC-IISD-OCI.

China is the world’s largest consumer of coal for power generation and industrial purposes, but it pledged five years ago to reduce coal consumption to 58 percent of total energy consumption or lower by 2020. One year short of that benchmark year, China, however, leads the way with $9.5 billion per year allocated in public finance for coal mining and power overseas.

And the world’s second biggest economy is still building hundreds of new coal-fired plants both in China and various countries, including Turkey, Bangladesh, Vietnam and elsewhere.

India, where hundreds of millions of people still live without regular access to electricity, finances support for coal mining and coal power to the tune of more than $10 billion annually, according to the report.

The NRDC-IISD-OCI summary did applaud nations like Canada, Germany and France for making significant moves toward eliminating coal-fired power.

Coal still supplies 40 percent of global power generation, according to reports. In the U.S., despite the retirement of some 115 GW of capacity, coal fuels close to 30 percent of the generation mix.

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