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The European Union’s climate chief has become the latest political heavyweight to publicly support divestment from fossil fuels.

EU Climate Commissioner, Connie Hedegaard calls on development banks to divest from fossil fuels. Creative Commons: Connect Euranet, 2011

Connie Hedegaard has urged the European Investment Bank (EIB), the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), and the World Bank to take a lead role in eliminating public finance support for fossil fuels.

Although all three of the banks have policies aimed at encouraging lending to renewables and energy efficiency, in practice fossil fuel projects continue to benefit from their support.

Between 2007 and 2011, the EIB invested €15 billion in fossil fuel projects compared to €14.8 billion in renewables, while similarly around half of the EBRD’s annual €6.7 billion of energy lending is still going to fossil fuels.

With a collective annual lending pot of €130 billion, Hedegaard said the banks must “lead by example by restricting conditions for greater public financing of coal, the most damaging fossil fuel, and by pressing for greater transparency in reporting on emissions.”

The World Bank looks set to take its first step in this transition, as a leaked report last month announced the bank would stop lending to coal power projects, except in “rare circumstances” where there were no other options available.

Experts say that two-thirds of the planet’s fossil fuel reserves must be left underground if disastrous levels of global warming are to be avoided.

By continuing to invest in ultimately unburnable fossil fuel assets these banks are contributing to a “carbon bubble” that poses a major risk to economic security.

Hedegaard joins other political figures and a growing chorus of people supporting the divestment movement, pushing the issue up the agenda.

Two weeks ago, President Obama used his climate change speech at Georgetown University to call on U.S. citizens to “convince those in power to reduce our carbon pollution. Push your own communities to adopt smarter practices. Invest. Divest.”

Smart organizations are already shifting their money away from risky fossil fuel assets.

Last week, pension fund, Storebrand, pulled out of 19 fossil fuel companies to “reduce fossil fuel and CO2 exposure and ensure long-term stable returns” stating that such high carbon assets would likely become “worthless financially” in the future.

The bank, Rabobank also announced a blanket ban on loans to firms involved with oil sands and fracking for shale gas due to the financial and environmental risks associated with projects of this nature.

The United Church of Christ also became the latest notable organization to approve a fossil fuel divestment strategy in the U.S., becoming the country’s first national and religious body to do so.

In the UK, the Church of England has also said it would consider divesting from fossil fuels, following a resolution passed by the diocese of Southwark—with the issue now passed onto the General Synod, the legislative body which governs the church.

The church has already reduced its exposure to fossil fuels by 62 percent since 2010, a significant shift in its £8 billion of assets, which has previously seen large investments in oil giants Shell and BP.

Following in the footsteps of giant institutions, local businesses and individuals are also starting to minimize their exposure to the carbon bubble and harness the potential of clean energy investments, showing they are ready to invest in renewables.

Visit EcoWatch’s RENEWABLES page for more related news on this topic.

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By Emily Saari

According to media reports, the World Bank plans to limit its financing of new coal-fired power plants to “rare circumstances,” reflecting the Bank’s increased focus on reducing the effects of climate change. A recent World Bank report warns that the world is currently heading towards 4 degrees Celsius of warming compared to pre-industrial levels, which could have disastrous impacts on people and nature worldwide.

Coal-fired power plants, Creative Commons: Emilian Robert Vicol, 2012

From the leaked World Bank report:

[The World Bank] will cease providing financial support for greenfield [new] coal power generation projects, except in rare circumstances where there are no feasible alternatives available to meet basic energy needs and other sources of financing are absent.

As a powerful funder of global energy projects—the Bank spent $8.2 billion on energy projects in the 2012 fiscal year—this decision is pivotal for shifting global investments away from coal, one of the dirtiest forms of energy. Coal power is responsible for 40 percent of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions and a host of public health impacts.

Nicolas Mombrial, head of the development charity Oxfam’s Washington office, said:

This plan could be a major boost in the transition needed from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources in the fight against the climate crisis, in a way that prioritizes the interests of poor people.

The U.S., the Bank’s largest shareholder, affirmed this decision earlier in the week when President Obama announced that he would restrict U.S. funding for coal projects overseas. President Obama, however, indicated that his administration would fund new coal projects if they implemented carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) technology to limit the release of greenhouse gas emissions. CCS technology is controversial and has yet to be proven reliable on a large scale.

Still open for questioning is whether this decision will stop the World Bank from funding a controversial coal-fired power plant in Kosovo, a project highly criticized by local activists for its potential public health effects. In speaking of the controversy over the power plant in Kosovo, Tim Wirth, former undersecretary of state for global affairs under President Clinton and now vice chairman of the U.N. Foundation, said:

Kosovo, that’s a tough decision. But of course they shouldn’t build it. If the president makes decisions right after a major climate speech to fund a coal power plant right off the Adriatic, we’re right back where we started. They’re just getting themselves right back in the soup.

This announcement by the World Bank follows suit with recent reports by Australia’s Climate Commission and the International Energy Agency warning that the world must leave 80 percent of all fossil fuel deposits in the ground if catastrophic climate change is to be avoided. Today’s media reports are based on a leaked draft of a new World Bank plan, which is apparently scheduled for discussion by the World Bank board next month.

Visit EcoWatch’s COAL and CLIMATE CHANGE pages for more related news on this topic.

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