The U.K. will become the first major industrialized nation to end all public finance for fossil fuel projects overseas, in an effort to mark itself out as a leader in tackling climate change.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson will make the announcement at avirtual United Nations summit on Saturday, which he’s co-hosting with France, Italy and Chile. More than 70 world leaders are due to attend the event, alongside Pope Francis andApple Inc. Chief Executive Tim Cook, who will each pledge to step up ambitions to curb emissions.
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The summit, which has been planned for months, comes as Johnson’s government is locked in fraught negotiations to avoid a chaotic split from theEuropean Union single market on Dec. 31.
He wants to use green policies to prove that the U.K. will continue to have influence outside the EU’s trading bloc, including tobolster relations with U.S. President-elect Joe Biden. The incoming White House administration is skeptical of Brexit, but wants to rejoin the Paris climate agreement and Johnson and Biden have already discussed their goals for green policy.
While it may have a political upside for Johnson, the new plan will mean changes for business.Siemens AG and General Electric Co are some of the companies that have benefited from U.K. backing for fossil fuels projects in countries such as Ghana and Iraq.
In the past four years the U.K. has supported 21 billion pounds ($28 billion) of U.K. oil and gas exports through trade promotion and export finance, according to a statement from Johnson’s office.
That led to criticism that the government’s foreign policy was out of kilter with its domestic efforts to eliminate U.K. greenhouse gases.
The decision to ban fossil fuel finance “sets a gold standard for what serious climate action looks like,” said Nick Mabey, chief executive of E3G. The environmental group said the U.K. plan will go further than a similar policy in France, which doesn’t cover all fossil fuels and only applies to export finance, and is the most ambitious among industrialized nations.
Johnson will also pledge 10 million pounds to a new initiative to help poor nations invest in green technologies in order to recover from the pandemic, his office said.
The ban on fossil fuel finance is set to come into force by November 2021, when the U.K. will host COP26 global climate talks in Glasgow, Scotland. The U.K. Export Finance agency will continue to consider applications for support in the oil and gas industries until a final decision is made in February 2021. Some of the cleanest gas-fired power plants will also be exempt from the ban, Johnson’s office said.
The decision was also welcomed by the opposition Labour Party, who had been calling for a similar ban. “Ending our hypocritical position on fossil fuels financing is a basic prerequisite for being a credible host of COP26,” said Ed Miliband, Labour’s spokesman for business, energy and industrial strategy.
The U.K. also plans to work with North Sea oil and gas companies to help create global hubs for wind energy, carbon capture and storage.
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