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Stop Exporting Pollution: Why Export Credit Agencies Shouldn't Fund Coal

11/06/2014 13:04 BST | Updated 11/08/2014 10:59 BST

Who ever heard of national Export Credit Agencies (ECA)? Well, pay attention please - there is one thing you need to know about them.

Export Credit Agencies are government agencies that use public money to fund or support private corporations from their own countries to do business abroad. Their role is to build international markets for national companies. They aren't required to disclose their activities to the public, and often they don't.

While ECAs support lots of valuable stuff, the problem is that some of them also use public money to export climate problems too. They are responsible for 90% of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries' support for coal abroad - amounting to $5.1 billion a year between 2007-2013. ECAs support coal even in OECD countries that claim to be climate leaders.

If there's one thing we know, it's that the use of coal is a main driver of climate change and its impacts on people, especially the poor. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recently said that, over the next two decades, investment flows need to be moved away from the extraction of fossil fuels and predominantly into energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies, if we are to stabilise the rise in planetary temperatures to a "safe" level.

Many know this already and are taking action. In the last year big public financial institutions, such as the World Bank, the European Investment Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, as well as major developed countries worldwide, including the U.S, the UK, Netherlands, Nordic countries and partly France, have been lining up to announce a virtual end to investments in coal.

Many are acting. But not everyone it seems.

Unfortunately, some developed countries are now trying to disguise their export business offerings with claims of climate mitigation. Some state that public support for coal-fired power is needed in order to get developing countries to adopt "cleaner coal technology", when in fact this argument has been obsolete for more than a decade.

For example, the French group Alstom now has subsidiaries in China or India that manufacture the same coal plants to the same technical standard that they use in France. China now builds coal plants that are as efficient as European ones.

Others talk about the development needs of poor countries. Development is inextricably linked to energy, it is true. But it is also true that the impacts of climate instability, including floods, droughts, heat waves and sea level rise, hit the poor hardest. If developed countries really want to help the poor, they must do so in ways that will not harm our global climate.

When it comes down to it, it's pretty illogical for OECD countries to be decarbonising their own energy sectors in the name of climate change while paying for the construction of coal-fired power plants in other countries. There are alternatives - renewable power and energy efficiency - and it'd make most sense in all ways for developed countries to support these, both within their own borders and outside.

The reality is that no coal technology is really "clean" from a climate perspective. The most efficient coal plants globally emit at best 700 grams of CO2 per kilowatt hour. That is a lot. By comparison, gas-fired power plants emit just half this amount and renewable technologies only account for 25-85 grams of CO2 per kilowatt hour. If countries really want to be climate leaders, they should end public support for coal and turn their funding towards a just transition to renewable energy sources and energy efficiency.

Apart from the US Export Credit Agency, no other ECA in the world has committed so far to end its coal support. But this can change on June 16.

On the 16th, the OECD Export Credit Group will discuss for the first time ever potential standards for making sure that public money from Export Credit Agencies does not go to climate polluting projects, but instead supports the future we want.

The time has come for developed countries to stop exporting climate change. They need to clean up their acts for good by immediately and publicly committing to end all forms of export credit support for high carbon projects, including coal plants, mines and associated infrastructure.

This is a historic opportunity for OECD countries. They can lead by example and show consistency with their climate pledges both at home and abroad. What a great way to show the world that the OECD means what it says on climate - just before the UN Climate Summit in September, and a year before the UN climate negotiations in Paris that are scheduled to deliver a global climate agreement.

Find out more about ending coal financing through Export Credit Agencies here: http://www.eca-watch.org/node/3600

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