Pressure mounts on G20 governments to drop fossil fuels

G20 governments

Activists bury their heads in the sand in a salute to Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott. Source: 350.org, 2014

As world leaders meet in Australia for the G20 meeting, analysts, youth and religious leaders are all urging the heads of government of the biggest economies of the world to turn their back on fossil fuels, by ending their financial support for dirty energy.

With this year’s G20 hailed as a finance and economics forum, there is no better platform for rich nations to put their money where their mouth is on climate change.

Ahead of the meeting faith leaders added their voice to the mounting calls for G20 leaders to make good on their promises to eliminate “perverse” handouts to oil and gas companies, which are driving climate change and risking health and prosperity of untold millions of people globally.

A new report released this week shows that G20 countries are spending a combined USD$88 billion a year subsidising exploration efforts for more oil, coal, and gas reserves despite pledging to get rid of “inefficient fossil fuel subsidies” in 2009.

G20 countries produce around 80% of global carbon emissions.

Many G20 members including the US, China and the European Union continue to step up their action on combating climate change, yet still, they seem to be ignoring the subsidy issue altogether.

This doublespeak has drawn calls from around the world for G20 countries to bridge the current disconnect between their promises and their actions on subsidies.

The faith groups also hit back on the coal industry’s claims that coal is an answer to energy poverty – a call that resonates in Australia, where Prime Minister Tony Abbott recently claimed “coal is good for humanity” while opening a mine last month.

He also has a record of dismissing climate change concerns and refusing to include the subject on the G20 agenda.

This week youth groups and activists have been piling the pressure on Abbott for his climate stance.

Ahead of the meeting, over 400 activists gave a salute to Abbott, when they met at the country’s iconic Bondi Beach and put their heads in the sand – mimicking their Prime Ministers stance of the issue of climate change.

In an open letter to G20 leaders, groups, led my the Australian Youth Climate Coalition (AYCC) urged governments not to be hoodwink by the ‘coal is good for humanity’ line and to support a transition to renewable energy.

“We are compelled to write this letter because we believe that the coal lobby, led by Peabody Energy (the largest coal company in the world), is trying to unduly influence the outcome of the G20 Summit,” read the letter.

Their agenda represents a threat to young people and future generations, and we urge you to listen to our message over that of vested interests. They claim that their industry will benefit the world’s poor. But we know that the rapid expansion of the industry will cost those living under the poverty line their health and clean air – and they are also the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

On the ‘Advanced Energy for Life’ website – a campaign website sponsored by Peabody Energy – the coal lobby continues to use the term “clean coal” despite being censured by the UK’s advertising watchdog for being misleading.

Coming back on the misleading information being pumped out by the coal industry, the AYCC have also used bike billboards, flyers and a video campaign to exposed the lobby’s most outlandish claims.

According to Kirsty Albion, AYCC National Co-Director:

We hope that as young people from across the world, we can help G20 leaders recognise Peabody Energy’s PR campaign for what it is: a laughable and desperate exercise from an outdated industry. Renewable energy is already turning the lights on for millions of people across the world, and delivers economic development, healthier communities, and addresses climate change.

Their efforts have been supported by a new report from Carbon Tracker, which released to coincide with the G20 meeting also dismissing the idea that coal is a good option for energy access.

The report shows how some 84% of people with access to electricity live in rural areas, often lacking access to a centralised grid. For these people, it would be much cheaper to install off-grid wind, solar and hydro generation than to build power lines to coal power stations.

“Looking, as we have in depth, at the geography and economics of energy access, the rural poor are unlikely to be the saviours of the coal industry,” said James Leaton, research director at Carbon Tracker.

Even in grid-connected cities, Carbon Tracker argued renewables are increasingly competitive with fossil fuel generation.

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