Dirty investments undermine UK govt's renewables pledge

Information gathered by the Guardian newspaper under the freedom of information act has revealed that the U.K. coalition government has invested more than 300 times the amount in fossil fuel-backed energy projects globally over the past five years as it has in clean and renewable energy.

According to the government’s export credit agency, government department UK Export Finance (UKEF) has allocated £1.13 billion ($1.72 billion) in the form of loans, loan guarantees and credit support to fossil fuel energy operations across the world since the current government came into power in May 2010.

Over that same period, clean energy projects have received backing to the tune of just £3.6 million ($5.48 million) despite a coalition agreement published when the government came to power stating that UKEF would "become champions for British companies that develop and export innovative green technologies around the world, instead of supporting investment in dirty fossil fuel energy production".

These words partly echo Prime Minister David Cameron’s own pledge to oversee "the greenest government ever" when he came to power five years ago. The UKEF ministerial department is overseen by Liberal Democrat business secretary Vince Cable, and uses taxpayers’ money to support British business ventures overseas.

According to the Guardian, £528 million ($803 million) in financing has been given to a suite of oil exploration companies working with Brazilian oil giant Petrobras, with a further £330 million ($502 million) loaned to Rolls Royce as part of the British company’s gas power dealings with Gazprom of Russia.

Figures for green energy investment over that same time period pale into comparison, with the bulk of the £3.6 million – a bond of £3.2 million – given to a company that installed cables to an offshore wind project in Germany. The was a bond of £153,335 for a Kuwait project.

A spokeswoman for UKEF told the Guardian that the level of funding was a simple reflection of market demand. "UKEF’s role is to provide financial support to U.K. exporters, primarily through providing insurance to exporters and guarantees to banks that enable them to take advantage of overseas contracts.

"Many renewable or green technologies being exported use UKEF to primarily support export of goods and services sold on short terms of credit, which tend to be smaller in value than large-scale projects."

However, Greenpeace U.K. climate and energy campaigner Lawrence Carter accused the government of acting like "merchant bankers for the fossil fuel industry", steering vast sums of taxpayers’ money into wasteful fossil fuel energy projects, leaving only "spare change" for the U.K.’s cutting-edge clean technologies.

Earlier this week, leaked OECD documents revealed that close to $15 billion in funding for mining and coal plants had been invested by the leading export credit divisions of the world’s richest countries over the past decade.

Clean investment on the rise

Despite the actions of the UKEF arm of the U.K. government, clean energy investment globally is on the rise.

Data gathered by Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) in January revealed a 16% global increase in clean energy investment in 2014, with investments in solar energy rising by 25% year-on-year to reach $149.6 billion.

Policy in India and China is also strongly supportive of increased investment in clean energy. By 2015, India hopes to have invested more than $10 billion in the sector, while China was recently voted the best country in the world in which to invest in clean technology following data analysis gathered by BNEF, the U.K.’s Department for International Development (DFID) and Climatescope.

In the U.S., President Obama recently proposed an extension of the Investment Tax Credit (ITC) during the announcement of the new budget. According to the president, there will be funding of $7.4 billion made available for clean energy, in addition to a further $4 billion for states seeking to accelerate their carbon reduction plans.

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