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Rich nations — including Japan — spend at least $100 billion a year on fossil fuels despite climate pledges

Thomson Reuters Foundation, Staff Report

The world’s major industrial democracies — including Japan — spend at least $100 billion each year to prop up oil, gas and coal consumption, despite vows to end fossil fuel subsidies by 2025, a report said Monday ahead of the Group of Seven summit in Canada.

Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States — known as the G-7 — pledged in 2016 to phase out their support for fossil fuels by 2025.

But a study led by Britain’s Overseas Development Institute (ODI) found they spent at least $100 billion a year to support fossil fuels at home and abroad in 2015 and 2016.

“Governments often say they have no public resources to support the clean energy transition,” the study’s lead author Shelagh Whitley said.

“What we’re trying to do is highlight that those resources are there (but) it is being used inefficiently.

“The G-7 have pledged to phase out fossil fuel subsidies, but they don’t have any systems in terms of accountability to meet the pledges — they don’t have road maps or plans,” added Whitley, head of the ODI’s climate division.

Researchers scrutinized and scored each country against indicators such as transparency, pledges and commitments, as well as their progress toward ending the use, support and production of fossil fuels.

France was ranked the highest overall, scoring 63 out of 100 points, followed by Germany at 62, Canada at 54 and the U.K. at 47, the report said.

Japan ranked near the bottom, garnering 42 points for the No. 6 slot, just ahead of the United States. It was ranked No. 5 or worse in five of the seven categories scrutinized.

“Japan’s track record indicates an unwillingness to end fiscal support and public finance to fossil fuels,” the report said. “While it has joined several commitments to phase out fossil fuel subsidies — such as the G-7 declaration to phase out fossil fuel subsidies by 2025 — the government is not very transparent about the extent of support for fossil fuels or plans for reforms of support for fossil fuels.”

The study noted that although Japan has lower levels of fiscal support for fossil fuel consumption when compared to other G-7 countries, it has a higher level of support for oil and gas exploration and production.

“Efforts to compensate for the drop in nuclear power generation after the Fukushima nuclear crisis in 2011 resulted in far more support for fossil fuels as compared to renewable energy,” it said.

The United States scored lowest with 42 out of 100 points due to its support for fossil fuel production and its withdrawal from the 2015 global pact to fight climate change.

U.S. President Donald Trump announced a year ago he was ditching the deal agreed upon by nearly 200 countries over opposition from businesses and U.S. allies.

The 2015 Paris agreement committed nations to curbing greenhouse emissions and keeping the global hike in temperatures “well below” 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) above preindustrial times.

Britain scored the lowest on transparency for denying that its government provided fossil fuel subsidies, even though it supported tax breaks for North Sea oil and gas exploration, the report said.

“We do not subsidize the production or consumption of fossil fuels,” a spokesman from Britain’s treasury said in emailed comments.

“We are supporting other countries in phasing out their own fossil fuel subsidies, as part of our commitment to the G-20 and G-7 pledges,” he added.

The study, which was co-authored by Oil Change International, the International Institute for Sustainable Development and the Natural Resources Defense Council, urged G-7 governments to set concrete plans to end fossil fuel subsidies by 2025 as pledged.

“What should be a low-hanging fruit in terms of moving public resources away from fossil fuels is not happening, or where it is happening, it’s not happening fast enough,” said the ODI’s Whitley.