Report tallies public cash for overseas coal plants

Vows by the United States and several other nations to end public funding for building coal plants in developing nations is a hot topic lately. But how much money are we talking about anyway?

It’s around $35 billion combined since 2007, according to a preliminary Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) tally of financing through international development banks and various nations' export credit agencies.

And another roughly $13 billion went to coal mining projects since 2007, the NRDC finds.

Japan has spent the most – nearly $20 billion – followed by nearly $9 billion from the U.S., $6 billion from Germany, and $3 billion from South Korea, the group said.

Environmentalists hope the numbers will fall.

President Obama’s second-term climate plan vows that the U.S. will end public financing for coal-fired power plants in developing nations except in rare cases; the Treasury Department explained how in late October; Nordic countries made the same vow recently; and on Wednesday the United Kingdom did too.

Some major funding nations haven’t yet followed suit, but the NRDC’s Jake Schmidt is hopeful that announcements by the U.S. and other nations getting out of the game will force their hand.

“This is welcome news and should make the Germans, Japanese and South Korean’s very uncomfortable as they are heavily invested in overseas coal projects,” Schmidt, the NRDC’s international climate policy director, said in a blog post Thursday that unveiled the group’s preliminary data.

The NRDC tally includes funding through development banks such as the World Bank Group, European Investment Bank, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, as well as nations’ individual export credit agencies.

“Most countries have an export-credit agency that supports its companies in overseas exports. Unfortunately these institutions have been heavily invested in overseas coal projects over the years — coal power plants and coal mines,” Schmidt writes.

Schmidt cautions that the tally is preliminary – and perhaps too low. The group plans to publish a more detailed report and project-by-project database.

“Since some countries are extremely poor in their public reporting of these projects, this data should be considered a conservative estimate,” he writes.

The NRDC also wants the public funding restrictions to apply to mines, not just power plants.

“Unfortunately the U.S. Treasury guidelines, the U.S. [Export-Import Bank] draft guidelines, and the U.K. commitment exclude coal mining. Since coal mines produce coal that then contributes to climate change, it is unacceptable to exclude this important source of carbon pollution. We hope that these organizations will correct this limitation,” Schmidt writes.