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Overseas Development Assistance: Fossil Fuel Subsidies

Volume 791: debated on Tuesday 15 May 2018


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government how much overseas development assistance was spent on fossil fuel subsidies in the most recent reporting period.

My Lords, the UK does not spend bilateral overseas development assistance on fossil fuel subsidies to benefit consumers. Our assistance helps countries to develop appropriate energy policies, attract private sector investment, and generate clean and renewable energy.

I thank the Minister for his Answer. CAFOD figures released last year for the reporting period from 2010 to 2014 show that at least £931 million of overseas development aid was spent on fossil fuels, rather than subsidies. What plans exist to reduce fossil fuel spending so that this contradiction in DfID policy—fighting climate change on the one hand and worsening it on the other—becomes history?

The noble Baroness makes a good point. As she rightly said, the CAFOD report refers to 2010-14. That precedes the SDGs, which have brought about a whole host of changes in how we promote renewable energy, and another change was the Paris Agreement on climate change. The numbers she referred to also include UK export finance, which supports the UK’s oil and gas industry, but it is not overseas development assistance. We do not use ODA to support fossil fuel subsidies at present.

My Lords, one of the key things is that the CDC has a five-year plan—the Government have ploughed billions into it—and a lot of the existing investments include fossil fuel investment. What is the Minister doing to ensure that, within the CDC’s five-year investment plan, we are not just not investing in fossil fuels but taking a proactive approach to investment in renewables? That is the solution. These countries need energy.

Energy is critical. I want to make absolutely sure that I got out the last words in my previous answer. As I sat down, I referred to fossil fuel subsidies, which the overseas development assistance system does not deal with. The noble Lord is absolutely right: power is incredible. You cannot have economic development at the pace we want to see or, often, the healthcare systems that people need without access to energy. That is why the CDC is right to invest heavily in bringing extra power plants on line. Some 5,000 megawatts that the CDC has invested in is currently under construction or coming online. Overwhelmingly, it is in favour of renewable energy because we believe that, in terms of economic benefits and costs, it provides the best opportunity for developing countries in the future.

My Lords, the UK’s shareholding in the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank is scored from overseas development assistance funding from DfID. While the bank itself has a strategy of being lean, clean and green, it still invests in fossil fuel projects; granted, not coal, but nevertheless fossil fuels. What is the UK’s position in multilateral organisations that it directly supports where there could well be projects in which, as part of the finance mechanism, there is a subsidy element?

It is a good point. The noble Lord points to the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank, but there are some tremendous examples. For example, the African Development Bank lent 100% to renewables in 2017. Progress is being made. There is general agreement in the international community that we need to move away from fossil fuels to renewables because that is what the STGs call for—STG7 is about clean and sustainable energy available to all—and what the Paris climate accord calls for.

My Lords, 1.06 billion people on the planet currently live without modern energy services. Renewable energy, particularly small-scale and off-grid energy systems, will play a key role in making sure that energy-poor communities have access to affordable and reliable electricity. DfID’s Energy Africa campaign is an excellent example of this. Will the Minister update the House on the progress of that campaign since its launch in 2015, and elaborate on the Government’s plans for spending on small-scale, off-grid energy systems?

The right reverend Prelate is absolutely right. A lot of the power stations we are talking about are of no benefit to the rural areas in which most of the poor people live because they cannot be cost-effectively connected to the grid. Therefore, solutions have to be off-grid. Energy Africa is a key part of what we are doing but, as well as that, we are launching some exciting programmes for the rural economy in Sierra Leone and there are the CDC investments in off-grid. Off-grid offers tremendous opportunities in getting power to poor people in rural areas and we will continue to invest heavily in it.

Will my noble friend join me in welcoming the UK’s membership of the International Solar Alliance, which was initiated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and announced during his recent visit to the UK? Will he also welcome the joint infrastructure fund we have created with India with the help of his department?

I will absolutely do that. Solar offers enormous potential. Not only is it a clean energy but, as technology advances, we see the cost of solar tumbling compared to other fuel supplies. The opportunity to achieve economic growth and development and to meet our climate change obligations is immense, and we are delighted to be able to partner other countries in delivering that.

My Lords, organisations all over the world are taking responsibility for their spending on fossil fuels. Will this Government do a full audit of their spending on fossil fuels and their investments—for example, pensions? They could then assess their impact on climate change and air pollution.

This country has done more than most to advance and drive its position towards clean growth. Just last year we had the launch of the Clean Growth Strategy and we put £2.5 billion—a record amount of investment—into innovation and technology that will help us meet those obligations. We have said that coal-fired power stations will be phased out by 2025, so we are doing a lot. Through the International Climate Fund we are doing more for the poorest in our world as well.