LEICESTER, United Kingdom – UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s pledge to end all support for coal-fired power plants overseas has been welcomed by CAFOD, England’s Catholic development aid agency.

“We all breathe the same air, we live beneath the same sky, and we all suffer when carbon emissions rise and the planet warms. So from today, the British government will no longer provide any new direct official development assistance, investment, export credit or trade promotion for thermal coal mining or coal power plants overseas,” Johnson announced at a UK-Africa Investment Summit in London Jan. 20.

“To put it simply, not another penny of UK taxpayers’ money will be directly invested in digging up coal or burning it for electricity. Instead, we’re going to focus on supporting the transition to lower- and zero-carbon alternatives,” the prime minister added.

In his speech, Johnson noted that Glasgow will be hosting the 2020 United Nations Climate Change Conference, known as COP26, Nov. 9-19.

“And of course, one of the many reasons we were chosen to host COP26 was the incredible speed with which we have cleaned up our domestic energy industry. A decade ago, we were the most carbon heavy nation in Europe – one of the most carbon-heavy nations in Europe. Today, we are a world-leader in offshore wind. We regularly generate more of our electricity from renewables than from fossil fuels, regularly,” the prime minister said.

Johnson told African leaders that it’s a “myth” that you must choose between reducing emissions and raising economic growth.

“Look at what happened here in the UK. Actually, we have cut CO2 by 42 percent since 1990 and yet GDP has gone up 67 percent. And we stand ready to help you do the same. Tackling the causes of climate change, while also delivering the power needed to unlock the potential of all our people. And what an incredible potential that is,” he said.

CAFOD issued a statement saying that as the UK begins its year of hosting the global climate talks, “we welcome the government’s statement that it stands ready to help Africa transition away from fossil fuels towards renewable, sustainable energy.”

“Without this we cannot tackle the climate emergency and end the energy poverty that millions of Africans still endure,” the statement continued.

The Catholic aid agency noted that coal is the most polluting fossil fuel, accounting for around 30 percent of the emissions of carbon dioxide responsible for rising temperatures.

However, CAFOD pointed to the fact that Johnson said the UK was still going to help countries with oil and gas production.

“Closing the loopholes on current coal investment through UK export finance is a positive step forward. But the UK must show it means business by committing to phase out all forms of public support for fossil fuels overseas,” said Sarah Wykes, CAFOD’s climate analyst.

“Almost 100 percent of current UKEF [export finance] energy support goes to fossil fuels and the science shows that further fossil fuel finance is incompatible with any reasonable chance of keeping below the 1.5C limit for dangerous global warming,” she said.

At the beginning of this year, two English dioceses took a concrete step to fight climate change by committing to divest from fossil fuels.

Middlesbrough and Lancaster became the first dioceses in the country to do so, although at least two religious orders have taken the same step.

“With growing awareness of people’s concerns for the care of our common home, supported by the trustees and Council of Priests of the diocese, and after thorough scrutiny of diocesan investments and with support from Operation Noah, the Diocese of Middlesbrough has decided that now is the time to divest from fossil fuels,” said Bishop Terry Drainey of Middlesbrough.

Founded in 2004, Operation Noah is an interdenominational Christian charity dedicated to fighting climate change.

“The evidence and the urgency of the climate crisis are all around us. However, as Pope Francis points out very clearly in his Encyclical Letter on The Care of Our Common Home, Laudato Si’, nothing will succeed if we do not begin with personal conversion, a change in lifestyle, a change of mindset,” Drainey added.

It is estimated more than 160 other Catholic institutions around the world have already committed to divest from fossil fuels.

Follow Charles Collins on Twitter: @CharlesinRome

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