A new report has exposed how five of the world’s wealthiest nations are threatening the chance to tackle the climate crisis by claiming leadership on the issue yet continuing to pump vast sums of money into fossil fuels.
“The Fossil Fuelled 5,” a research paper from the non-profit Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty initiative, charges that the U.S., the U.K., Canada, Norway and Australia hold the distinction of being wealthy fossil fuel-producing countries “with high levels of historic responsibility for the climate crisis, and low levels of dependence on fossil fuels for economic development.”
The paper claims that the five nations have provided $150 billion in taxpayer-funded support for fossil fuel production and consumption through the duration of the coronavirus pandemic. It further makes the case that there is a “widening gap” between the countries’ rhetoric and their real-world behaviour when it comes to fossil fuel use, which undermines their claims of leadership on climate action.
“There’s an alarming gap between what wealthy nations are saying and what they are doing,” said Freddie Daley, the report’s lead author and a research associate at the University of Sussex in the U.K. “You would expect these five nations to provide the leadership needed to move the global economy away from fossil fuels and reduce emissions to zero. However, they seem to be quite content to make pledges and promises with one hand, while expanding and subsidizing fossil fuel production to the tune of billions on the other.”
Among its highlights, the report notes that the U.S. is responsible for 20% of all global historical greenhouse gas emissions, making it the largest polluter in world history. Despite being home to just 4.28% of the world’s population, the country’s share of annual global greenhouse gas emissions stands at about 14.5%. In spite of this, the U.S. still intends to expand its oil and gas industries by 17% and 12% respectively by 2030.
The U.K., which is currently hosting the COP26 climate summit, is the second largest oil and gas exporter in Europe after Norway, and has pledged some $40 billion for fossil fuel production and consumption during the coronavirus pandemic. In spite of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s worthy words at COP26, the current government continues to support new oil and gas projects including the controversial Cambo oil field in the North sea, containing an estimated 255 million barrels of crude oil.
Elsewhere, the report shows that Canada aims to increase oil and gas production by 17% and 18% respectively by 2040; Australia is the world’s largest gas exporter and plans to continue to expand its coal, oil and gas industries; and that 42% of the value of Norway’s exports comes from oil and gas.
The report bolsters the case put forward by youth activists that the climate promises of wealthy nations are little more than hot air, and that while countries continue to support fossil fuels, any talk of climate action amounts to empty rhetoric.
The report arrives the same week as the establishment of a new global alliance to end oil and gas production. The Beyond Oil & Gas Alliance (BOGA) was launched at COP26 by the governments of Denmark and Costa Rica, joined by core members France, Greenland, Ireland, Quebec, Sweden and Wales. BOGA members have signed up to “set an end date for their oil and gas exploration and extraction” in alignment with the goals of the Paris Agreement in cutting greenhouse gas emissions.
Notably, COP26 host the U.K. has refused to join the alliance, despite the inclusion of Wales, which joined thanks to the work of Senedd Cymru member Lee Waters. The U.S., Canada, Australia and Norway are also conspicuous by their absence.
“Not only are these wealthy nations jeopardizing their own futures and the futures of their citizens through this continued expansion, but they are condemning communities in the global south to a state of perpetual crisis which they did nothing to create,” Daley said. “If these nations want to be climate pioneers, it is time they addressed the elephant in the room: fossil fuels.”
According to the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change’s Sixth Assessment Report, fossil fuels like oil and gas are the source of 86% of carbon dioxide emissions released over the last decade. To stay on course with keeping global temperature increases to within 1.5 degrees Celsius this century—a target the scientific community says must be adhered to in order to avoid the most dangerous climate impacts—the international community needs to cut its emissions by at least 55% by 2030.
At present, climate commitments made by all nations will lead to emissions reductions of just 7.5% by 2030, meaning action on slashing emissions must be increased by a factor of five. Yet according to the Stockholm Environment Institute, the oil and gas industry is expected to invest $1.4 trillion into new fossil fuel projects between 2020 and 2024, “creating emissions equivalent to building 1,200 new U.S. coal-fired power stations.”
Climate campaign groups around the world have given the report a warm welcome. Tessa Khan, founder of energy transition campaign group Uplift U.K. said: “The U.K. government has invested a lot in trying to persuade people that it is taking action to tackle the climate crisis, but while it is still opening up new oil and gas fields we can discount most of it as hot air. We know that there can’t be any fossil fuel developments if we want a liveable climate and yet the U.K. government wants to open 30 new oil and gas fields in the North Sea, starting with Cambo. And all the while subsiding fossil fuel companies to the tune of billions.”
Meanwhile, Collin Rees, U.S. program manager for the advocacy group Oil Change International, said: “The United States is the poster child for climate hypocrisy—the world’s largest historical emitter claiming the mantle of climate leadership while pouring fuel on the fire of the climate crisis. Joe Biden’s words will ring hollow until he cancels deadly fossil fuel expansion projects like the Dakota Access Pipeline or the dozens of proposed oil and gas export terminals awaiting approval from his administration.
This new report makes it clear the U.S. remains a massive driver of oil and gas expansion, and that won’t change until our leaders commit to a managed phase-out of fossil fuel extraction that truly protects communities, workers, and the climate.”
The report can be viewed here.