The U.K. joined a U.S. commitment to minimize funding of foreign coal-fired power stations as they seek to curb use of a fuel that spews twice the levels of greenhouse emissions as burning natural gas.
“We will work to get support of more countries and the multilateral development banks,” U.K. Energy Secretary Edward Davey said in Warsaw, where delegates from about 190 countries met for United Nations climate talks. Funding for coal would be allowed under the “rare circumstances” when alternatives aren’t available and there’s a case for reducing poverty.
Reliance on coal moved into focus at the talks after a UN report indicated that humans already burned more than half the amount of fossil fuels that could lead to dangerous changes in the climate. Coal generated 30.3 percent of the world’s primary energy in 2011, the highest level since 1969, according to the World Coal Association. It slipped to 29.9 percent last year.
Christiana Figueres, the UN’s top climate official, on Nov. 18 urged coal executives in Warsaw to help reduce global warming by leaving most of the fuel in the ground and closing the least efficient power plants. The World Bank and European Investment Bank are also involved in the push against coal finance.
“Now the Japanese and Germans need to follow suit,” Jake Schmidt, the Washington-based director of climate policy at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said after the announcement by Britain. “It is way past time that we stop funding dirty energy and turn those resources towards clean energy.”
Britain still provides funds for coal mining, Schmidt said.
The U.K. has provided about $100 million in export finance for foreign coal mines since 2007, according to research by the Council. In addition, the country’s share of financing for development lenders such as the World Bank accounts for a further $427 million for the industry, Schmidt said.
“The U.K.’s agreement to end support for public financing of new coal-fired power plants overseas is a rare glimmer of the long-term ambition and understanding of the shifts needed to a low carbon economy,” Jonathan Grant, sustainability and climate change director at PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, said in an e-mailed statement.
U.S. Special Envoy for Climate change Todd Stern told reporters he “commended” the U.K. on its announcement.
“This is a policy that the U.S. announced as part of the president’s climate action plan in June,” Stern said. “The Nordic governments joined us in that effort this fall.”
The UN talks are due to end on Nov. 22.