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The Hypocrisy of National ‘Climate Champions’

Annie Grey sheds light on the insincerity of the so-called climate champions.

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Photo by Brian Garrity

Since the concept of net-zero was agreed in the 2015 Paris Agreement, at least 120 countries have made net-zero or carbon neutral commitments. However, many countries are still producing fossil fuels despite their commitments to combat climate change. Canada, Norway, and the UK especially stand out because they are producing fossil fuels while positioning themselves as ‘climate champions’.

As published in Global Sustainability, Exeter University’s Global Systems Institute (GSI) stated that governments are engaged in “climate hypocrisy” by publicly supporting the Paris Agreement, in which nations agreed to limit global warming to “well below 2°C”, while subsidising the fossil fuel industry, destroying forests and pursuing other harmful policies.

Smoke and Mirrors

Supposedly, the UK is leading the world in the fight against climate change, being the first major economy to legislate for net-zero emissions by 2050 and having cut emissions by 43% since 1990 – the best in the G7. The UK government can make these claims because, under international agreements, each country is only responsible for greenhouse gas emissions produced within its own territory.

The UK government announced in December 2020 that it is ending state support for fossil fuel industry exports and shifting government assistance to low-carbon and renewable energy projects abroad. This will end “export finance, aid funding and trade promotion for new crude oil, natural gas, or thermal coal projects, with very limited exceptions”. In light of this statement, it’s worth noting that fossil fuels have enjoyed a large share of UK export credits for decades, supporting 21 billion pounds ($27.8 billion) of oil and gas exports in the last four years alone. A new target to cut emissions by at least 68% by 2030 was also announced, compared with 1990 levels. The 68% cut was deemed by the EU to be Britain’s fair share towards combating climate change although Green groups have called for a 75% cut, and research by consultancy Cambridge Econometrics said a target of 70% by 2030 was necessary.

There are also noticeable gaps in policy, in skills, in funding for net-zero infrastructure and in the emissions reductions required to keep the UK within the already agreed carbon budget. Moreover, the fourth and fifth carbon budgets were calculated to deliver an 80% reduction in emissions by 2050, not to achieve the net-zero ambition as stated in law.

Empty Pledges?

Canada and Norway have also set ambitious targets – Canada has pledged to reduce their territorial emissions to net zero by 2050, and Norway strives to be carbon neutral by 2030. By focusing on territorial emissions, the countries are abiding by existing international agreements. However, the practice remains counterproductive, as emissions caused by the burning of their oil, gas and coal exported to other territories globally aren’t included in their carbon figures.

Justin Trudeau was re-elected as Canada’s Prime Minister last year [2020], at which point promises were made to immediately bring forward a plan to exceed Canada’s 2030 climate goal and pass a new law mandating net-zero emissions by 2050. Unfortunately, the self-proclaimed climate leader is instead pouring tax dollars into an oil pipeline project.

The planned Teck Mine would be the biggest tar sand mine yet: 113 square miles of petroleum mining, located just 16 miles from the border of Wood Buffalo national park. A federal panel approved the mine despite concluding that it would likely be harmful to both the environment and the land culture of Indigenous people. Canadian authorities ruled that the mine was nonetheless in the “public interest”. As Canada – currently representing 0.5% of the global population – plans to use up nearly a third of the planet’s remaining carbon budget, the Canadian Prime Minister stated: “No country would find 173 billion barrels of oil in the ground and leave them there”. According to Canada Energy Regulator, the country’s crude oil production is expected to keep increasing until 2039. Canada’s proven oil reserves stand at roughly 168 billion barrels, according to government data. If all that is extracted and burned, it would add an estimated 72 gigatons of CO2 into the atmosphere, based on a calculation using IPCC’s figures for default carbon contents. Ottawa hides all this behind a series of pledges about “net-zero emissions by 2050”, while Trudeau offers few details as to how the country will achieve said targets.

Territorial Trumps Global

Likewise, much of the environmental innovation that Norway prides itself on is financed by its oil industry. Aside from being a ‘forward-thinking climate champion’, Norway is also a major fossil fuels exporter, with plans to continue being so for the foreseeable future. Norway’s annual domestic emissions reached around 53 million tons in 2017, according to its statistical office, and the emissions from the oil and gas Norway sold abroad reached approximately 470 million tons in 2017, according to the UN Emission Gap Report. Norway’s minister of climate and environment, Syeinung Rotevatn, confirmed that the country’s commitments are based on territorial climate targets, further stating: “Emissions related to the consumption of exported oil and gas products are covered by the importers’ emission accounts and targets”. Rotevatn also emphasised that “Norway strongly supported a transition from the use and production of fossil energy to renewable energy”.

Andrew Grant, the head of climate, energy and industry research at Carbon Tracker suggested that many producers rely economically on revenues from fossil fuels. In an interview with CNN, Grant stated:

“Everyone has reasons why they think it should be them that continues producing [fossil fuels] and no one else. In the Middle East, it’s because it’s very low cost; in Canada, they talk about their human rights record; in Norway, they talk about the low carbon intensity of their production; in the UK, it’s because they’ve got mature fields of infrastructure.”

Journey to Real Change

The Global Systems Institute (GSI) maintains that the fundamental reason we are not solving the climate crisis is not a lack of green energy solutions, rather it is that many governments persist with energy strategies that prioritise fossil fuels.

“To bring about real change, we must address complex issues involving politics, fake news, human behaviour, government subsidies, taxes, international trade agreements, human rights, lobbying by the fossil fuel industry, and disinformation campaigns.” – Professor Baldwin, GSI

GSI researchers call for a “comprehensive global plan” to solve the climate crisis, with seven recommendations:

  1. End all government subsidies to the fossil fuel industry

  2. Ban all exploration for new oil / gas / coal reserves anywhere in the world

  3. Enforce a policy that no public money can be spent on fossil fuel infrastructure anywhere in the world

  4. Stop justifying fossil fuel use by employing carbon offset schemes

  5. Redirect most fossil fuel subsidies to targeted programmes for enabling the transition to a green energy economy

  6. Minimise reliance on future negative-emissions technologies; they should be the subject of research, development and potentially deployment, but the plan to solve the climate crisis should proceed on the premise that they will not work at-scale

  7. Trade deals: Do not buy products from nations that destroy rainforests in order to produce cheaper, greater quantities of meat and agricultural products for export.

At the time of writing, Canada, Norway, and the UK all plan to keep producing fossil fuels, investing in new projects and explorations.


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