UK and Germany fossil fuel subsidies undermining Paris deal, says UN

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The triumphant goodwill generated by last December’s COP21 talks in Paris – which resulted in the Paris Agreement to seek ways to limit the global temperature increase to below 2c by 2050 – threatens to be eroded by leading nations’ reticence on following through on its promises, the UN special envoy on climate change, Mary Robinson, has warned.

The U.K. and Germany were singled out by Robinson for their seemingly contradictory stance – signing up for bold pledges to phase out fossil fuels in the long-term, but simultaneously offering subsidies and tax breaks for their respective fossil fuel industries.

"The British government introduced new tax breaks for oil and gas in 2015 that will cost the U.K. taxpayer billions between 2015 and 2020, and at the same time they’ve cut support for renewables and for energy efficiency," Robinson told the Guardian.

Last week, new British Prime Minister Theresa May scrapped the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC), folding energy into a new, business-focused department in a move that dismayed many climate change advocates in the U.K. and beyond.

The message that this sends out is worrisome, others added, with outgoing UN climate chief Christiana Figueres urging the U.K. not to abandon its climate efforts in the wake of the more immediately tumultuous Brexit vote. "The Brexit vote was not about climate change; let us remember that," she said.

Germany has also been criticized by Robinson for sending mixed messages: on the one hand maintaining the course to end coal subsidies by 2018, but on the other hand introducing new mechanisms that provide payment to power companies for their ability to provide a constant supply of electricity – this mechanism includes providers such as coal and gas companies.

Robinson stressed, however, that it is not just Germany and the U.K. at fault.

"We want all countries to end fossil fuel subsidies," she said. The climate change head last week added her name to a statement signed by Desmond Tutu, Kofi Annan and other international ‘Elders’ outlining their major concerns about the lack of tangible action taken by world leaders since COP21.

Investment decisions are being taken globally that run contrary to the Paris deal, the letter said, while many countries are "even increasing subsidies to fossil fuel production. This is simply not good enough. While all countries need to act, the industrialized and wealthy countries must lead by example."

Former Mexican president Ernesto Zedillo, who co-signed the statement called for the adoption of carbon pricing, saying: "Governments and businesses may pay lip service to the transition to carbon neutrality, but they need an economic imperative to ditch old models and move to environmentally sustainable investments: pricing carbon provides such an incentive."

The COP21 deal has yet to be ratified by the world’s top 10 largest greenhouse gas emitters, with the U.S. and China pledging to do so before year’s end. However, U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump has already said that he would try to "unpick the deal" if he came to power.

China accounts for 20.09% of the world’s greenhouse gases, with the U.S. accounting for 17.89%.