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COP27: US pours billions into fossil fuel projects

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Picture: Yolande Du Preez A group of volunteers making it clear that they are against the use of fossil fuels in Hatfield on Saturday.

By Jessica Corbett

With the continent facing climate extremes despite its limited contributions to the crisis, political leaders and campaigners have called for global spending on clean energy development.

Just days away from the United Nations climate summit in Egypt, The Guardian on Monday highlighted how the US government is pouring billions into African fossil fuel projects while making relatively limited investments in renewables.

Using Oil Change International’s Public Finance for Energy Database, the newspaper found that since the 2015 Paris agreement, US funding for fossil fuel development in Africa has soared, despite global goals to limit planet-heating emissions.

For fiscal years 2016-21, the US spent $13 billion on fossil fuel projects globally, compared with $4 billion on renewable energy and $1 billion on other projects. Two-thirds of fossil fuel spending, or $9 billion, went to projects in Africa. Just $682 million went to renewables there — meaning the US spent 13 times more on polluting projects across the continent.

Leading up to the COP27 summit in Sharm El-Sheikh, African campaigners and leaders have stressed not only the need for loss and damage funding from wealthy nations that have largely created the climate emergency, but also greater investments in renewables.

As Kenyan President William Ruto argued earlier this month, the continent has “immense potential for renewable energy, and this abundance of wind and solar energy can power the development of Africa”.

However, the data shows that rather than promoting clean energy development across Africa, the US government has instead focused on producing fossil fuels — and not even to aid Africans. As Youba Sokona, a climate scientist from Mali who is a vice chair of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, told The Guardian, “The US isn’t investing for the interest of Africans, it’s investing for the interests of the US.”

Last year, climate campaigners cautiously welcomed US President Joe Biden’s plan to cut off federal support for fossil fuel projects abroad while warning of the policy’s shortcomings.

“The loopholes for ‘strategic’ projects, and the lack of action at home, leave big gaps,” Fossil Free Media director Jamie Henn said at the time. “It’s time to end government support for all fossil fuels everywhere.”

Climate campaigners remain critical of the administration, especially in light of The Guardian’s findings.

Kate DeAngelis, international finance programme manager at Friends of the Earth, said that she “was thrilled with the promises” of the current administration, but since Biden took office last year, “it’s been a slow walk back to the point where you couldn’t tell the difference between” him and his right-wing predecessor in terms of fossil fuel finance abroad.

“It’s been frustrating and tiresome to see so many opportunities lost to transition away from fossil fuels,” she continued. “It’s just business as usual. We are seeing some of the most vulnerable communities in Africa be negatively impacted and they don’t have a voice.”

As the newspaper detailed:

The Export-Import Bank of the United States (EXIM), a primary funder of overseas energy projects, has ramped up its support of renewables in recent years but DeAngelis said the agency had shown no intention of ceasing fossil fuel funding. “They’ve said to us they will approve fossil fuels in Africa and beyond and not to get bogged down on that because they are doing renewables too,” she said. “It shows the lack of seriousness [with which] the Biden administration is taking this crisis.”

From 2016 until last year, EXIM’s financing of fossil fuels in Africa dwarfed renewable funding by a factor of 51 to one. This approach to lending threatens to undercut Biden’s message of climate leadership at what has been dubbed “Africa’s COP,” to be held over the next two weeks in Egypt.

While EXIM did not respond to the paper’s request for comment, a spokesperson for the Development Finance Corporation said that DFC is “committed to safeguarding US geostrategic interests, while accounting for rising energy demand and security around the world,” and “seeks to invest in highly developmental, affordable, and sustainable energy access in alignment with the Biden-Harris administration’s long-term climate goals, including a net-zero future”.

The reporting and final preparations for COP27 come as climate scientists and other experts continue to warn of the need to rapidly transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy at a global scale.

A World Meteorological Organisation report confirmed Wednesday that atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide hit record highs last year, which WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said “has underlined, once again, the enormous challenge — and the vital necessity — of urgent action to cut greenhouse gas emissions and prevent global temperatures rising even further in the future.”

The following day, the UN Environment Programme delivered a similar message about how far off the world is from meeting the Paris temperature goals for 2100, warning that there is “no credible pathway to 1.5°C in place,” which necessitates a “rapid transformation of societies.”

Corbett is a staff writer for Common Dreams.

This article was first published in Common Dreams.