CHRISTIAN development charities have welcomed the announcement that the UK will formally end financial support for coal mining and power plants overseas. But they warned that if it wants to lead on climate change, it must do the same for oil and gas.
At a UK Africa Investment summit in London on Monday, attended by 15 African heads of state, the Prime Minister said that coal would no longer receive either aid money or credit through UK export finance (UKEF).
“There’s no point in the UK reducing the amount of coal we burn if we then trundle over to Africa and line our pockets by encouraging African states to use more of it,” Mr Johnson said. “To put it simply, not another penny of UK taxpayers’ money will be directly invested in digging up coal or burning it for electricity. Instead, we’re going to focus on the transition to lower- and zero-carbon alternatives.”
Campaigners said that the UK had informally held this policy since 2002. Formalising the position, however, would send a signal to other countries, at a time when the UK is preparing to host a UN climate summit in Glasgow in November.
The lead climate analyst at CAFOD, Dr Sarah Wykes, said: “As the UK begins its year of hosting the global climate talks, we welcome the Government’s statement that it stands ready to help Africa transition away from fossil fuels towards renewable, sustainable energy.
“But the UK must show it means business by committing to phase out all forms of public support for fossil fuels overseas. Almost 100 per cent of current UKEF energy support goes to fossil fuels, and the science shows that further fossil-fuel finance is incompatible with any reasonable chance of keeping below the 1.5°C limit for dangerous global warming.”
This was echoed by experts within Africa, who have expressed concern that representatives of the oil and gas industry were invited to the summit.
The director of the Nairobi-based climate-change think tank Power Shift Africa, Mohamed Adow, said: “The UK has set a target of going net zero by 2050. If Boris Johnson is happy to free his own country of the polluting fossil fuels of the past, why does he continue to use UK money to keep Africa shackled to oil and gas for years come?
“Africa doesn’t need this: we have huge resources of wind and solar energy. What we need is investment to harness them.”
Some NGOs made the criticism that, although the summit was about the development of Africa, few African civil-society figures were even aware of it or invited, while it was packed with representatives from the private sector.
The principal private-sector adviser at Christian Aid, Matti Kohonen, said: “We’d like more accountability and transparency. They should have made a better announcement on the objectives, and said who’s coming, and for what purpose we’re spending money from the aid budget.”
Other groups said that the summit appeared to be an attempt by the UK to land new trade deals now that it is on course to the leave the European Union.
An open letter to the Government, signed by Church Action for Tax Justice, Traidcraft Exchange, and the Jubilee Debt Campaign, among others, said: “Despite the fact that the Summit appears to be primarily funded through official development assistance (ODA), it seems to be less about effective development and more about promoting British business interests whilst expanding the UK’s economic and political power over the African continent.”
In his opening speech, Mr Johnson said that he was keen to woo African business, and hinted that changes to UK immigration policy after Brexit might open up the UK to people outside the EU’s freedom of movement area.
Mr Adow said, however, that the UK might no longer have the same appeal on the global stage. He said: “Despite the historic ties between the UK and Africa, it’s telling that only 15 of the 54 African heads of state attended this summit. Similar meetings in Japan, Russia, and China within the last year saw nearly every leader in attendance.”
Joe Ware is a journalist for Christian Aid.