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Canada leads G20 in financing fossil fuels, lags in renewables funding, report says

Renewable energy gets less government help in Canada than in any other G20 country
A pumpjack works at a well head on an oil and gas installation near Cremona, Alta., Saturday, Oct. 29, 2016. Canadian fossil fuel producers receive more public financial support than any in the developed world, according to a new analysis. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

Canadian fossil fuel producers receive more public financial support than any in the developed world, according to a new analysis.

And compared to subsidies for oil, gas and coal, renewable energy gets less government help in Canada than in any other G20 country, say the latest figures from Oil Change International.

“They’re very much going in the wrong direction,” said Bronwen Tucker, who helped prepare the report for the group, which has been tracking public finance of fossil fuels since 2012.

The report, which includes 2019 and 2020, adds up loans, loan guarantees, grants, share purchases and insurance coverage provided to fossil fuel producers by governments, government agencies and government-owned multinational development banks.

Around the world, that added up to almost $78 billion last year — down from the 2015-17 average of $111 billion.

The report acknowledges that not all countries are equally transparent, with information from countries such as China and Saudi Arabia harder to come by.

But it found Canada topped the subsidies list, providing an average of almost $14 billion a year between 2018 and 2020. Japan, Korea and China came in close behind.

No surprise, Tucker said.

“Canada’s been consistently in the top four. They’ve always been up there.”

At the same time, the report finds Canadian renewable energy received about $1 billion in public financial support — far less than in other countries.

On average, the report finds G20 countries provided about 2.5 times more support for fossil fuels than renewables. In Canada, the ratio is 14.5.

“That juxtaposition really stood out to me,” said Julia Levin of Environmental Defence, which has received and endorsed the report. “We have just spent so much on the sectors of the past rather than preparing for the future.”

Both the federal government and Export Development Canada — the agency through which most of the financing flows — have pledged to reduce fossil fuel finance.

During the recent campaign, the Liberals said they would eliminate fossil fuel subsidies by 2023.

That’s progress, said Levin.

“This is the first time we’ve seen the government say, ‘Hey, we have to do something about public financing.’”

Export Development Canada says by 2023, it will reduce support to the six most carbon-intensive sectors by 40 per cent below 2018 levels and set “sustainable finance targets” by July 2022.

“The organization will also be considering how to broaden targets to cover all sectors it supports,” it says on its website.

Levin said those promises are inadequate.

“They fall short of what needs to happen. Any climate policy that allows a public institution to continue giving support to the oil and gas sector isn’t enough.”

Federal New Democrat Leader Jagmeet Singh said the report shows the Liberal government isn’t moving fast enough.

“It’s never been clearer that this government needs to eliminate all fossil fuel subsidies,” he said in a release. “To beat this climate crisis, we need bold action to reduce emissions by 50 per cent instead of the Liberals’ less ambitious targets.”

The Oil Change report comes as world leaders prepare to meet in Glasgow, Scotland, to discuss global progress on climate change and what needs to happen next. Public finance of oil, gas and coal is expected to be on the agenda.

The U.K., Levin said, has already pledged to end such measures.

“They announced they’d be looking into it on December 2020, and by March 2021 they had a policy in place. It doesn’t have to take 10 years like it’s been taking Canada.”

Tucker said a coalition of 15 countries and institutions are expected in Glasgow to commit to ending public finance of fossil fuels.

“It is uncertain whether Canada will join,” she said.

—Bob Weber, The Canadian Press

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