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G20 governments have committed $151 billion to fossil fuels in Covid-19 recovery packages

The new Energy Policy Tracker (EPT) offers a near-real-time snapshot of public funding commitments and other government policies related to the production and consumption of energy.

Published on 15 July 2020
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Emily Yehle

Data made public today on the Energy Policy Tracker, a new website tracking climate- and energy-related recovery policies, shows a total commitment of at least US$151 billion from G20 governments in support of fossil fuels. Of them, only 20% make financial support conditional on green requirements, such as setting climate targets or implementing pollution reduction plans. At the same time, US$89 billion has been committed to clean energy, but 81% of this support is unspecific about the appropriate environmental safeguards.

The Energy Policy Tracker provides information about public funding commitments and other government policies related to the production and consumption of energy in the G20 countries since the beginning of the pandemic with weekly updates. While rhetoric about the need for a green recovery has grown louder in the policy space, this data shows that, in reality, fossil fuel producers and high-carbon sectors, such as airlines, are currently receiving 70% more recovery aid than the clean energy.

“The Covid-19 crisis and governments’ responses to it are intensifying the trends that existed before the pandemic struck,” said Dr. Ivetta Gerasimchuk, International Institute for Sustainable Development expert and the Energy Policy Tracker project lead. “National and subnational jurisdictions that heavily subsidized the production and consumption of fossil fuels in previous years have once again thrown lifelines to oil, gas, coal, and fossil fuel-powered electricity. Meanwhile, economies that had already begun a transition to clean energy are now using stimulus and recovery packages to make this happen even faster.”

The Energy Policy Tracker has registered over 200 individual policies from G20 countries, combining the amounts committed through each policy to generate total aggregate figures. To provide a detailed real-world picture of the current state of support for different energy types, the data for both fossil fuels and clean energy is split into sub-categories—unconditional and conditional. These categories provided a more nuanced picture on the different levels of government support for a green recovery from the pandemic.

“In spite of the great number of clean policies being approved by governments in recent months, the tracking system shows how the fossil fuel industry has continued to aggressively lobby policy-makers,” said Angela Picciariello, Senior Research Officer at the Overseas Development Institute. “This has resulted in some so-called conditional fossil fuel policies that nevertheless lock in dangerous emissions for decades to come. Nor is it always easy to distinguish clean from fossil fuel policies—the tracking system is important to identify the policies causing the greatest, and often hidden, environmental damage.”

G20 countries are responsible for around 80% of global greenhouse gas emissions and account for 85% of global GDP. With G20 governments committed to injecting over US$8 trillion into the global economy, decisions made today about how these funds will be distributed will lock in the world’s environmental footprint for decades to come.

“Under the guise of Covid-19 recovery spending, governments are pouring huge volumes of public money into the struggling fossil fuel industry, wasting an opportunity to fight the climate crisis while enriching big polluters,” said Alex Doukas, Stop Funding Fossils Program Director at Oil Change International. “Recovery spending must dramatically change course to support clean energy as an investment in the future, instead of subsidizing the polluters of the past. Fossil fuels were a bad investment even before the pandemic began.”

“The recovery from the coronavirus crisis needs to result in an acceleration of the energy transition,” said Dr. Tom Moerenhout, Professor of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University. “If we miss that opportunity and embark on another fossil fuel-powered economic recovery as was the case in 2008 then it is not likely but certain that our planet’s already-high fever will turn into heatstroke.”

According to the data released today, committed support for clean energy amounted so far to US$89 billion, but only US$16 billion has been committed to support unconditionally clean energy such as solar or wind.

“We are happy to see that China, Germany, India, Japan, South Korea and the UK have already approved some green recovery policies that provide lasting and decent green jobs,” said Dr. Satoshi Kojima, Principal Coordinator at the Institute for Global Environmental Strategies. “Further efforts to mainstream this strategy are desirable.”

“Today, governments are doubling down on fossil fuels as they grapple with the pandemic and plan their recoveries, but there is still time to build back better,” said Elisa Arond, Research Fellow at SEI. “Policymakers and civil society organizations can use the evolving data in this Energy Policy Tracker to help push new recovery policies and energy policies more broadly in that direction.”

The results from the Energy Policy Tracker will continue to evolve as more countries are added and weekly updates are made. Only quantifiable policies those with a specific dollar value attached are included in the totals, while many energy support policies remain unquantified. Figures representing total public money commitments will continue to evolve over the course of the year and beyond.

SEI contacts

Elisa Arond

Research Fellow

SEI Latin America

Cleo Verkuijl
Cleo Verkuijl



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