Government spent twice as much on fossil fuels as renewable energy, threatening poor communities

11 August 2017

The UK government spent more than double the amount on fossil fuels as it did on renewable energy overseas, our research shows.

Out of the money the government spent on energy in developing countries, 46% went to fossil fuels compared to just 22% on renewable energy. This was between 2010-2014, the most recent period for which figures are available.

The findings are important because emissions from fossil fuels are changing the world’s climate and pushing people in poor communities deeper into poverty.

Spending on fossil fuels undermines the government’s international obligations

There is an urgent need to develop policies so that, in the next few years, the emission of carbon dioxide and other highly polluting gases can be drastically reduced, for example, substituting for fossil fuels and developing sources of renewable energy.

Pope Francis

The research, which we undertook with the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), also suggests that there’s a contradiction between the government’s practice and its international obligations.

The UK has committed to tackling climate change under the Paris Agreement – which 197 countries have signed.

The government also agreed as part of the Sustainable Development Goals to help people living in poverty access electricity. We’ve shown that this is easier, cheaper and safer with renewable energy such as solar power.

Help to bring renewable energy to people living without electricity

There’s some progress – but another part of government is undermining it

The figures do show some progress, with the Department for International Development spending more aid money on supporting renewable energy (32%) than on fossil fuels (22%). However, this progress is being undermined by money from another arm of government – UK Export Finance – which gave more than 99% of money earmarked for overseas energy to fossil fuels.

Dr Sarah Wykes, lead analyst on climate change and energy at CAFOD, said:

“To tackle climate change we have to leave fossil fuels in the ground and switch rapidly to renewable sources of energy. It doesn’t make sense for there to still be any public money going into fossil fuels overseas.

“Supporting fossil fuels overseas puts UK leadership at risk at a time when it is needed now more than ever on the Paris Agreement. We’d like some clarity from the government on how it plans to make its energy spending consistent with its promises to tackle climate change and help the world’s poorest people access modern energy services.”

Help the world’s poorest communities to access energy

Renewable energy – not fossil fuels – are key for bringing power to people

Helping people in poor communities to access renewable energy is vital as, for those living in remote areas, renewable energy sources such as solar power are the quickest and cheapest way of connecting them.

But our analysis also found that of the money spent on energy in developing countries, only 8% went towards improving poor people’s access to energy. This is at odds with the government’s commitments under the Sustainable Development Goals to ensure everyone has access to affordable and sustainable modern energy services by 2030.

CAFOD’s Sarah Wykes noted:

“Whilst the spending by DFID indicates there is an improving picture for how much aid money goes to energy access, the UK needs to be moving farther at a quicker rate if we are to make sure that we can connect the world’s poorest people to modern energy services.”

The CAFOD and ODI research into the money spent by government looked at all disbursements - covering aid money, loans, guarantees and insurance under export finance.

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