G20 countries triple coal power subsidies despite climate crisis

Major economies pledged a decade ago to phase out all aid for fossil fuels


A protest against the Drax power station in North Yorkshire. Photograph: Guy Bell/Rex

G20 countries have almost tripled the subsidies they give to coal-fired power plants in recent years, despite the urgent need to cut the carbon emissions driving the climate crisis.

The bloc of major economies pledged a decade ago to phase out all fossil fuel subsidies.

The figures, published in a report by the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) and others, show that Japan is one of the biggest financial supporters of coal, despite the prime minister, Shinzo Abe, having said in September: “Climate change can be life-threatening to all generations … We must take more robust actions and reduce the use of fossil fuels.” The annual G20 meeting begins in Japan on Friday.

China and India give the biggest subsidies to coal, with Japan third, followed by South Africa, South Korea, Indonesia and the US. While the UK frequently runs its own electricity grid without any coal power at all, a parliamentary report in June criticised the billions of pounds used to help to build fossil fuel power plants overseas.

Global emissions must fall by half in the next decade to avoid significantly worsening drought, floods, extreme heatwave and poverty for hundreds of millions of people. But emissions are still increasing, with coal-fired power the biggest single contributor to the rise in 2018.

“It has now been 10 years since the G20 committed to phasing out fossil fuel subsidies, yet astonishingly some governments are actually increasing the amount they give to coal power plants,” said Ipek Gençsü, research fellow at ODI and lead author of the report.

“Momentum is growing around the world for governments to take urgent action to tackle the climate crisis and ending subsidies to coal would bring benefits to all [including reduced air pollution] and help set a level playing field for clean energy,” she said.

Extreme weather may finally make climate change a ballot-box issue

In Prince Edward County we  are still recovering from flooding as waves nibble at our shoreline. The County’s soon to be formed Environmental Committee will have its work cut out for it as it will be forced to reexamine past policies, revise them,and set out a vision for a new, local, and sustainable green economy . There is no doubt that  climate change will be a ballot box issue.

Voters have long been unmoved by scientists’ dire climate predictions, but fires, floods and other catastrophic weather events might cause a shift.


A fire burns near High Level, Alta., in May 2019, forcing thousands from their homes (Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta/CP)

Back in the spring of 2016, when images of a voracious forest fire menacing Fort McMurray, Alta., were dominating the news, reporters asked Prime Minister Justin Trudeau if climate change was to blame. As the unofficial capital of Alberta’s oil sands, Fort McMurray figures prominently in the bitter debate over fossil fuels and global warming, so Trudeau responded carefully. “It’s well-known that one of the consequences of climate change will be a greater prevalence of extreme weather events around the planet,” he allowed, before quickly adding, “Pointing at any one incident and saying, ‘This is because of that’ is neither helpful nor entirely accurate.”

Trudeau drew criticism from some who thought he had missed a chance to highlight the heavy price humanity is already paying for making the planet hotter and drier. But his answer was a pretty standard political dodge at the time. Even Green Party Leader Elizabeth May said “no credible climate scientist” would draw a neat cause-and-effect link between climate change and the Fort Mac fire. Then-NDP leader Thomas Mulcair said, “It’s not time to start laying blame.” 

A lot has changed, though, in the past three years. During severe flooding in Eastern Canada this spring, for instance, Trudeau didn’t hesitate to raise the alarm about climate change. “Canadians are already seeing the costs,” he said.

READ: Bill McKibben on how we might avert climate change suicide

Other Liberals were even more outspoken. “Yes, climate change is real,” said MP Will Amos, whose Quebec riding, on the Ottawa River, was hit badly by the floods. “Yes, it is wreaking havoc on our infrastructure.” Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, the senior voice from Western Canada in Trudeau’s cabinet, linked global warming to the floods, as well as fires on Prairie grasslands and in boreal forests. Goodale said he didn’t want to get into a partisan argument, but stressed, “I think we all have to learn the lessons of climate change—the impacts here are powerful and dangerous and damaging.”

The shift from pussyfooting around how climate change leads to more extreme weather events to talking about it so forcefully hasn’t happened by chance. It’s the result of a concerted effort by researchers to create a new field called “attribution science.” The challenge they faced was that climate is so complicated that teasing out a single cause for, say, a flood or a fire is impossible. So they devised methods for calculating how much climate change had contributed. The watershed report was published by researchers from the University of Oxford in 2004, explaining how global warming caused by humans had at least doubled the risk of the heat wave that baked Europe the previous year.

Since that landmark study, attribution science has taken off, including in Canada. The federal government’s “Canada’s Changing Climate Report,” released early this year, listed 14 Canadian attribution studies published from 2015-17, on everything from forest fires, to flooding, to thinning Arctic sea ice. 

In a widely noted report, Environment Canada researchers analyzed the awful 2017 forest fire season in British Columbia, when 65,000 were driven from their homes and millions left breathing smoke-filled air. They concluded that the extreme summer temperatures behind those fires were made more than 20 times more likely by human-caused climate change.  MORE

Canada says global carbon pollution must be reduced to ‘near zero’ to limit harsh impacts

Water levels rise dangerously high below the Chaudière Bridge over the Ottawa River, between Gatineau and Ottawa, following spring flooding on May 8, 2017. File photo by Alex Tétreault

Canada is heating up at double the average rate of the planet, according to a stunning peer-reviewed scientific report involving dozens of government and academic authors, and it is likely that the majority of this warming was caused by human activities like burning fossil fuels.

Canada’s Changing Climate Report, released April 1, 2019, shows how climate change has already altered Canada and is expected to lead to heightened risks of heat waves, wildfires, floods and declining freshwater availability.

The report uses careful language to express varying levels of confidence in scientific research, showing how climate change has already altered Canada & is expected to lead to heightened risks of heat waves, wildfires, floods and declining freshwater

It found that Canada’s annual temperature over land has warmed on average 1.7 degrees Celsius between 1948 and 2016, while the average winter temperature has increased by 3.3 C. Although not uniform, that’s much more dramatic than the average warming around the world of between 0.8 C and 1.2 C as assessed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

For Northern Canada, the number is even starker: the region has warmed by 2.3 C, about three times global warming.

It also found more than half of the warming in Canada is “likely” due to human factors like burning fossil fuels such as gasoline that come from oil, gas and coal, which create heat-trapping carbon pollution.

The report is an overview and synthesis of published literature, similar to how the IPCC functions. As a result, it uses careful language to express varying levels of confidence in scientific research.

Overall, the scientists found the effects of climate change evident across the country, and that further warming over the next decades is already baked in due to pollution that has already been released into the atmosphere. MORE