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

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

Oil Change International finds Canadian governments provided $14 billion per year to oil, gas, coal

Pumpjacks draw oil out of the ground near Olds, Alta., on July 16, 2020. A new report from Oil Change International found Canada provided an average of almost $14 billion a year in public support for fossil fuels between 2018 and 2020. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

Canadian fossil fuel producers receive more public financial support than any others 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 2015-2017 average of $111 billion.

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

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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 there, Tucker said.

"Canada's been consistently in the top four. They've always been up there."

Other countries averaged higher support for renewables

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

Rooftop solar panels sit on Queen Elizabeth High School in Edmonton. The report found that Canada offers just $1 billion a year in subsidies for renewable energy. The average for the G20 is about 2.5 times more. (CBC)

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 election 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 that 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."

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 are 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 is expected in Glasgow to commit to ending public finance of fossil fuels.

"It is uncertain whether Canada will join," she said.