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US push to dilute energy regulations as bailouts to fossil fuel firms

The US has argued for less regulation of the world’s energy systems, speaking out against the policy interventions promoting clean energy that are central to a “green recovery” from the coronavirus crisis.

Dan Brouillette, the US energy secretary, told a global summit of energy ministers, focused on sustainable recovery, that democracies should choose the free market over policies such as taxes, regulations and climate risk assessments on companies that would “steer people away from some energy sources and in the direction of others”.

He said: “There is the top-down government-driven approach, and there is the bottom-up competition-based alternative. I believe the bottom-up approach is fully coherent with who we are as democratic societies and nations.

“My country is abandoning none of our fuels, and not one iota of economic opportunity, in the quest for a clean energy world. [We support] a bottom-up energy philosophy which by regulating less lets us innovate more.”

The US has devoted at least $3bn in coronavirus bailout cash to more than 5,600 fossil fuel companies, according to an analysis by the Guardian and Documented.

Hannah McKinnon, director at the pressure group Oil Change International, said: “I bet there were a lot of eyes rolling [among the ministers at the conference]. It is incredibly rich and ironic for the US to say this.”

Fatih Birol, executive director of the International Energy Agency, which hosted the summit, claimed the US had shown the biggest decline in greenhouse gas emissions of any country in the world in the last two decades. As the cost of renewable energy had plunged, solar and wind power had grown at their fastest rate last year in the US, making the country the world’s second biggest producer. However Birol advised: “There is room for improvement.”

The IEA will track the progress by all countries over the next few months on meeting the promises made by many to spur on a green recovery from the Covid-19 crisis.

Birol has warned that any return to business as usual would put the Paris climate agreement goals at risk, and that the world’s path to either a high-emissions or low-emissions future would be determined in the next six months as governments put their economic rescue packages in place.

He said governments had made encouraging commitments. “I have not seen such strong momentum before. But that does not mean this momentum will be translated into real world action.”

Antonio Guterres, the UN secretary-general, told the conference, conducted online, that countries should choose a green recovery for sound economic reasons, as renewable energy was now cheaper than coal, and for health reasons, as clean energy reduced air pollution – as well as for combating the climate emergency.

But he warned that twice as much recovery money was now earmarked for fossil fuels than the amount allocated to low-carbon generation.

“Many have still not got the message [of the need for a green recovery],” Guterres said. “Some countries have used stimulus plans to prop up oil and gas companies that were already struggling financially. Others have chosen to jumpstart coal-fired power plants that don’t make financial or environmental sense. The right decisions can put countries on a much safer and healthier footing.”