British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a halt to his country's funding of new crude oil, gas and coal projects before opening the Climate Ambition Summit. - AFP

LONDON: Britain is to end government funding for fossil fuel projects overseas, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Friday, on the eve of an international climate change summit. Johnson announced a halt to funding of new crude oil, gas and coal projects before opening the Climate Ambition Summit co-hosted by Britain, the United Nations and France yesterday.

"I'm pleased to say today that the UK will end taxpayer support for fossil fuel projects overseas as soon as possible," Johnson said in a statement released by his office. Britain has been criticized for sending billions of pounds abroad to help extract and refine fossil fuels and build power stations. It has promised to end this soon, while saying there will be "very limited exceptions".

"Calling time on financing overseas fossil fuel projects really is a welcome move," said the policy director at Greenpeace UK, Doug Parr. Christian Aid's head of campaigns and UK advocacy Pete Moorey said to tackle the climate crisis, 80 percent of known fossil fuels needed to be left in the ground. "The UK government is right to heed this warning and end support for fossil fuels overseas," he added.

"Developing countries need investment to leapfrog the dirty energy that has led us into this crisis and access the clean renewable that can both accelerate their development and tackle the climate emergency." Downing Street said it intends to implement the policy by November next year, when Britain will host the UN summit on climate change COP26, in Glasgow.

'Unacceptably high'
Over the last four years, the British government "supported £21 billion ($28 billion, 23 billion euros) of UK oil and gas exports through trade promotion and export finance", it added. Britain has been criticized by watchdogs and activists including Swedish campaigner Greta Thunberg for financing dirty energy projects abroad.

UK Export Finance (UKEF), a government department, provides British companies with export credit guarantees to help them trade overseas. In 2019, an Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) report concluded that UKEF's support for fossil fuel energy projects was "unacceptably high" in developing countries. It said Britain had supported projects worth £2.6 billion between 2013 and 2018, most in "low and middle-income countries". By contrast, just £104 million went on renewable energy projects, it said, recommending an end of support for new fossil fuel projects by the end of next year.

The prime minister in January announced an immediate end to support of coal mining and coal-powered power stations abroad in developing countries. Britain is not alone among wealthy nations in backing such projects abroad under the radar. A study released in January by the market monitor Oil Change International and Friends of the Earth America found that export credit agencies of G20 countries provide more than 10 times as much state-backed financing to oil, gas and coal projects abroad as they do to renewable energy schemes. - AFP