From 2007 to 2012, the governments of developed countries invested almost $35 billion in coal plants internationally.
Throw in coal mines and other related activities, as well as the financing in all three areas in 2013 so far, and the total comes to just over $59 billion, according to figures compiled by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).
The money stream was split between two major sources: international development banks such as the World Bank Group, European Investment Bank, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and Asian Development Bank as well as the export-credit agencies in a few advanced countries, such as the United States’ Export-Import Bank. The top three offenders from 2007 to 2012 were the Japanese Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC) at $11.9 billion, followed by the U.S. Export-Import Bank with $7.24 billion, and finally the World Bank Group with $6.54 billion.
Countries pass their public financing through multiple sources, so all the money the United States has pumped into coal power comes to $8.87 billion — second only to Japan at $19.67 billion.
There are moves afoot to change this. As part of his Climate Action Plan earlier this year, President Obama committed the United States to ending its international financing for coal plants that don’t capture their carbon emissions. The Treasury Department has drawn up guidelines that limit financing of coal power plants in middle-income countries — such as South Africa and India — to units that can get to or below an emission rate of 500 grams of greenhouse gases for every kilowatt-hour of electricity produced. That effectively means only plants that have effectively deployed carbon capture and sequestration technology. Alternatively, a coal plant could also qualify for financing if it offsets all its carbon emissions with clean energy investments. For lower-income countries, coal plants can still qualify for financing if an assessment shows the project overcomes “binding constraints on national economic development” and that no other sources of energy are available. They’ll also need to use the “best internationally available technology.”
The U.S. Export-Import Bank has set out similar guidelines. But the criteria being used by both institutions exclude coal mining from the new limitations, even though it accounts for 37 percent of all the international coal-related financing.
The Nordic countries of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden joined the U.S. with similar commitments in September. And on Wednesday, the United Kingdom announced at the U.N. climate talks in Warsaw that it would also end its public financing for coal power in most circumstances — though like the U.S., the U.K.’s criteria doesn’t extend to coal mining.