Are we seeing the end of the UKEF's (& other ECA) fossil fuel empire(s)?

(Prospect, London, 10 September 2020) Boris Johnson has pledged to end Britain's support for global gas and oil projects. But will the government really make good on its promise? Investors across the world are growing increasingly wary of financing fossil fuels—and for good reason. In an era of climate protest, carbon neutrality pledges and cheap renewable energy, oil refineries and gas fields look like risky bets. Until recently, ECAs had sunk serious sums of money into fossil fuels without facing much backlash. Figures compiled by the research and advocacy group Oil Change International show that the world’s ECAs provided over $40bn annually to support fossil fuel projects between 2016 and 2018—compared to $2.9bn for clean energy. UK Export Finance (UKEF) was no outlier among its peers. Last year, a report from Parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee revealed that 96% (£2.5bn) of UKEF’s of energy investments between 2013 and 2017 went to polluting projects. Of this total, £2.4bn was funneled into fossil fuel projects in low and middle-income countries. If the legislation is free of loopholes, it will divert several billion pounds of public money away from extractive industries and, ideally, towards renewable alternatives. Most importantly, it will signal to the private sector that the end of the oil age is fast approaching. Since the 2015 Paris Agreement, the world’s largest investment banks have provided more than $700bn for fossil fuel projects. In January, a joint investigation by Newsnight and Greenpeace’s Unearthed revealed that UKEF has helped to finance oil and gas projects which, when complete, will emit 69 million tonnes of greenhouse gases a year. The agency found itself in hot water again in July when it was discovered that it was helping to fund a massive new gas extraction project in Mozambique, along with seven other ECAs.