Barry has written an opinion piece for The Times criticising the Government’s policy to use taxpayer-backed credit guarantees to support the fossil fuel industry overseas. You can read his article here, or below:
Last March, UK Export Finance (UKEF) – a government body that promotes exports abroad – offered up to £1bn of support to help companies secure business in Argentina. The then trade minister Greg Hands claimed the credit would support the Argentinian renewable energy sector. “The UK’s expertise in areas like infrastructure [and] green energy … will form the basis of new trading relationships with Argentina.”
This is the agenda promoted by the Government’s Green Great Britain Week. Unfortunately, government practice does not match rhetoric.
Last August, Philip Hammond went to Buenos Aires to meet with UK companies present in Argentina, where – according to documents released under FOI requests – he “raised the £1 billion export credit facility announced by UKEF”. Which companies did our Chancellor promote the offer to? Pan American Energy (BP’s Argentinian arm) and Shell Argentina among others. Despite Greg Hands’ fine words, not one renewable energy company was present. What would oil companies use UK government financing for in Argentina? Very likely, fracking.
Argentina is home to the ‘Vaca Muerta’ – one of the world’s largest reserves of natural gas. Extracting this natural gas is expensive. It is also dangerous: Indigenous communities next to fracking wells have been raising alarm on its impacts for years. Above all, it is incompatible with our international commitments to combat climate change. Last week, the IPCC published a major report into what it will take to avoid catastrophic climate change. Their message is simple: fossil fuels must be kept in the ground. If the government’s export credit agency backs fracking in Argentina, it would accelerate burning fossil fuels past climate safe limits.
This is part of a wider problem with UKEF, whose massive fossil fuel involvement undermines our commitment to the Paris Agreement. 99.4% of the UK’s export credit financing for energy in developing countries goes to fossil fuels. That’s nearly £3bn worth of financing for fossil fuel projects between 2010-2014. As a G20 member, we committed to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies. But there is no plan to reduce UKEF’s support to oil and gas. In fact, the government denies the very existence of any subsidies to the fossil fuel industry.
When challenged on this irresponsible approach to energy financing, UKEF blamed a lack of demand from the renewables industry. “Our role is to respond to demand from exporting companies, and we can only provide support where it is requested.”
If that’s the case, something’s going wrong. Let’s look only at Argentina. German export credit agency Euler Hermes issued guarantees for a $142m windfarm in Río Negro. The French BPIFrance invested into EREN, a company building windfarms around the world including Argentina. And Sweden’s export credit agency is going fossil free. Why are UK agencies still in thrall to oil and gas giants when our peers are taking steps to go fossil-free?
We shouldn’t throw the weight of taxpayer money behind an export credit agency that subsidises fossil fuels. We cannot, on one hand, provide millions in international aid to help vulnerable countries fight climate change; and on the other, provide billions of pounds worth of credit guarantees to fossil fuel projects that make climate change worse.
It’s time for the UK to take a leading role in the transition to a zero-carbon future. The UK’s renewable energy sector deserves support to grow to a world-leading scale. There’s tremendous potential. Last year our offshore wind exports were worth £500m. By 2030, this could increase fivefold.
That opportunity is being squandered by the Department for International Trade. Instead of fossil fuels, UKEF should provide credit guarantees to help export our low-carbon industrial expertise in sectors such as tidal energy and electric motors. That’s why Labour will promote UKEF support for energy towards low-carbon projects in place of its overwhelming support for fossil fuel projects in previous years. It’s not just the right choice for our economy – it’s the only choice for our planet. When we do this, we can honestly call ourselves Green Great Britain.