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'Talk is Cheap': G20 Nations Invested 4X More in Fossil Fuels Than in Renewables

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Climate action will be a major topic of discussion at the upcoming G20 summit in Hamburg, with some world leaders planning to confront President Donald Trump about his withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement. However, a group of environmental organizations proclaim all this "talk is cheap."


That's because G20 countries are pouring nearly four times more public finance into fossil fuels than into renewable energy projects, according to a new analysis released by Oil Change International, Friends of the Earth, Sierra Club and the WWF European Policy Office.

Data from Oil Change International's Shift the Subsidies database shows that G20 countries provided about $71.8 billion of public financing annually for fossil fuel projects between 2013-2015, compared to only $18.7 billion for renewable energy. Public finance is defined as grants, loans, equity, and loan guarantees from government-owned financial institutions.

This finding directly contradicts the commitments these same governments made during the Paris climate talks to keep global warming to well below 2°C and limit warming to 1.5°C, the authors pointed out. By continuing these sweetheart deals for dirty energy projects, the world could blow past these climate targets.

"Our research shows that the G20 still hasn't put its money where its mouth is when it comes to the clean energy transition. If other G20 governments are serious about standing up to Trump's climate denial and meeting their commitments under the Paris agreement, they need to stop propping up the outdated fossil fuel industry with public money," said Alex Doukas, senior campaigner at Oil Change International and one of the report's authors. "The best climate science points to an urgent need to transition to clean energy, but public finance from G20 governments drags us in the opposite direction. We must stop funding fossils and shift these subsidies."

According to the report, the U.S.ranked fourth in contributions, with $6 billion per year going to oil, gas and coal industries between 2013-2015. That's four times the amount that went to clean energy, which received $1.3 billion.

The top contributor to fossil fuel industries was Japan, which funneled $16.5 billion to fossil fuels per year versus $2.7 billion to green energy. China and South Korea followed Japan on the list.

Germany, which is regarded as a climate action champion, ranked fifth on the list after providing $3.5 billion of public finance for fossil fuels compared to $2.4 billion for renewables.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said climate change was a top priority at the G20 summit.

"Since the decision of the US to quit the Paris climate agreement, we are more determined than ever to make it successful," Merkel said. "We must tackle this existential challenge, and we cannot wait until every last person on earth has been convinced of the scientific proof."

But Kate DeAngelis, international policy analyst at Friends of the Earth, said that "G20 leaders may like to talk about climate, but it's clear their talk is cheap."

"While praising each other for investing in renewable energy at home, they bankroll billions of dollars for dirty fossil fuel projects in developing countries," DeAngelis continued. "G20 leaders' handouts to fossil fuel companies destroys the health of people and the planet. G20 countries must commit to transitioning from brown to green, once and for all."

Nicole Ghio, a senior international campaign representative at the Sierra Club, had similar criticisms.

"When the G20 countries committed to the Paris agreement, they made a pact with the world that they would take meaningful steps to reduce their carbon emissions in an effort to avert the worst effects of the climate crisis," Ghio said. "But as we now know, these countries have been talking out of both sides of their mouths. It's unconscionable that any nation would continue to waste public funds on fossil fuels when clean energy sources like wind and solar are not only readily available, but are more cost-effective and healthier for families and communities across the globe. It is past time for G20 nations to stop subsidizing fossil fuels once and for all."

The goal of the report is to encourage countries to invest more in renewables and less in fossil fuels.

"The Paris agreement should lead policymakers to refocus public finance on energy savings and sustainable renewable energy, which actually offer effective solutions to our future energy challenges," Sebastien Godinot with the WWF European Policy Office said.

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Protestors marched outside the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey on Monday, August 26, during the MTV Video and Music Awards to bring attention to the water crisis currently gripping the city. Karla Ann Cote / NurPhoto / Getty Images

By Will Sarni

It is far too easy to view scarcity and poor quality of water as issues solely affecting emerging economies. While the images of women and children fetching water in Africa and a lack of access to water in India are deeply disturbing, this is not the complete picture.

The city of Flint, Michigan, where dangerous levels of pollutants contaminated the municipal water supply, is a case in point — as is, more recently, the city of Newark, New Jersey.

The Past is No Longer a Guide to the Future

We get ever closer to "day zeros" — the point at when municipal water supplies are switched off — and tragedies such as Flint. These are not isolated stories. Instead they are becoming routine, and the public sector and civil society are scrambling to address them. We are seeing "day zeros" in South Africa, India, Australia and elsewhere, and we are now detecting lead contamination in drinking water in cities across the U.S.

"Day zero" is the result of water planning by looking in the rear-view mirror. The past is no longer a guide to the future; water demand has outstripped supplies because we are tied to business-as-usual planning practices and water prices, and this goes hand-in-hand with the inability of the public sector to factor the impacts of climate change into long-term water planning. Lead in drinking water is the result of lead pipe service lines that have not been replaced and in many cases only recently identified by utilities, governments and customers. An estimated 22 million people in the US are potentially using lead water service lines. This aging infrastructure won't repair or replace itself.

One of the most troubling aspects of the global water crisis is that those least able to afford access to water are also the ones who pay a disproportionately high percentage of their income for it. A report by WaterAid revealed that a standard water bill in developed countries is as little as 0.1 percent of the income of someone earning the minimum wage, while in a country like Madagascar a person reliant on a tanker truck for their water supply would spend as much as 45 percent of their daily income on water to get just the recommended daily minimum supply. In Mozambique, families relying on black-market vendors will spend up to 100 times as much on water as those reached by government-subsidized water supplies.

Finally, we need to understand that the discussion of a projected gap between supply and demand is misleading. There is no gap, only poor choices around allocation. The wealthy will have access to water, and the poor will pay more for water of questionable quality. From Flint residents using bottled water and paying high water utility rates, to the poor in South Africa waiting in line for their allocation of water — inequity is everywhere.

Water Inequity Requires Global Action — Now.

These troubling scenarios beg the obvious question: What to do? We do know that ongoing reports on the 'water crisis' are not going to catalyze action to address water scarcity, poor quality, access and affordability. Ensuring the human right to water feels distant at times.

We need to mobilize an ecosystem of stakeholders to be fully engaged in developing and scaling solutions. The public sector, private sector, NGOs, entrepreneurs, investors, academics and civil society must all be engaged in solving water scarcity and quality problems. Each stakeholder brings unique skills, scale and speed of impact (for example, entrepreneurs are fast but lack scale, while conversely the public sector is slow but has scale).

We also urgently need to change how we talk about water. We consistently talk about droughts happening across the globe — but what we are really dealing with is an overallocation of water due to business-as-usual practices and the impacts of climate change.

We need to democratize access to water data and actionable information. Imagine providing anyone with a smartphone the ability to know, on a real-time basis, the quality of their drinking water and actions to secure safe water. Putting this information in the hands of civil society instead or solely relying on centralized regulatory agencies and utilities will change public policies.

Will Sarni is the founder and CEO of Water Foundry.

Note: This post also appears on the World Economic Forum.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Circle of Blue.

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