Fossil fuels subsidies ‘jeopardising climate deal’, say major investors

A group of investors and insurers who manage $2.8trn has called on the G20 to end public funding for coal, oil and gas by 2020

The Australian government has promised $1bn to help build a railway to the Abbot Point port in order to export coal from a proposed mega-mine. (Pic: Greenpeace/Tom Jefferson)

The Australian government has promised $1bn to help build a railway to the Abbot Point port in order to export coal from a proposed mega-mine. (Pic: Greenpeace/Tom Jefferson)

By

Investors with US$2.8 trillion under management have called on the world’s leading economies to stop subsidising fossil fuels within four years.

The group, which includes insurance brands Legal & General and Aviva, issued a statement on Wednesday calling for a 2020 deadline to be set for a phase out of subsidies for coal, oil and gas by the G20 nations. G20 foreign ministers are meeting this week ahead of a leaders’ summit in Hamburg in July.

The G7 nations have pledged to end their subsidies by 2025, but much of the world’s carbon emissions growth is coming from countries on the next rung of the economic ladder.

The G20, which encompasses many of the world’s emerging economies, have agreed to phase out “inefficient fossil fuel subsidies that encourage wasteful consumption” over the “medium term”. But despite increasing pressure from civil society and some countries within the G20, the commitment has remained hazy.

Weekly briefing: Sign up for your essential climate politics update

The group of fund managers, many of which hold large fossil fuel investments, said a clear signal from the world’s biggest economies would give them the confidence to shift capital towards clean energy.

Meryam Omi, head of sustainability and responsible investment strategy at Legal and General, said: “The current level of inefficient subsidies and lack of transparency are jeopardising the global goal of meeting the Paris climate targets and of ensuring a secure, healthy and reliable energy system.

“As investors, we are faced with a tremendous opportunity to finance the low carbon transition and, as such, we look for the governments to set a clear timeline and a plan for phasing out fossil fuel subsidies to enable an orderly transition.”

Subsidies can come in the form of tax breaks, direct finance and indirect assistance but the definition is a subject of debate. Because of this, estimates of global fossil fuel subsidies vary widely, but even conservative estimates set the annual spend in the hundreds of billions.

Report: Germany makes climate change G20 priority

Secretary general of the Mercator Research Institute Brigitte Knopf leads a task force charged with advising on the G20 meeting’s climate agenda. She said the topic of phasing out fossil fuel subsidies would be discussed at the meeting.

“However, in the current political situation we will see what is realistic in the end,” she said. The meeting will be the first multilateral talks attended by the new US president Donald Trump and a major test of his anti-globalist agenda.

The US has led on this matter in the past, last year presenting a joint peer review with China. Germany and Mexico are set to follow suit. But Trump has already reversed many of the pro-climate initiatives of his predecessor Barack Obama.

On fossil fuel subsidies, Knopf said “a clear deadline would certainly help with this endeavour. However, a phase-out year of 2020 is very ambitious. In 2016, the G7 have agreed on a date of 2025 and I don’t expect that the G20 can become more ambitious than the already positive signal of a joint 2025 deadline. It is also very well possible for the G20 to come out with a two-step approach of different speeds, meaning that the industrialized countries agree to phase out earlier than the emerging economies.”

Laurence Tubiana: prepare for G20 climate showdown

Shelagh Whitley, head of climate and energy at the ODI, said ministers and leaders meeting in Hamburg in July must heed the financial sector.

“Global investors and insurers are sending a clear message to governments that burning public money through fossil fuel subsidies is not just bad for the planet, but bad economic policy too,” she said.

A similar call was made by three insurers ahead of last year’s of G20 nations in China. In repeating their statement they were joined by a dozen investment groups and insurers. In terms of wealth managed, the group is equal in size to the world’s largest public fund – the US Social Security Trust Funds – and more than three times larger than the largest sovereign wealth fund, Norway’s.

Foreign ministers from the G20 will meet in Bonn, Germany, later this week.

Read more on: Fossil Fuels | World