Speaking at a UK-Africa investment summit in London, the prime minister announced an immediate end to the use of UK taxpayers’ money to support coal-mining and coal-fuelled power stations in developing countries, as part of a drive to limit climate change and protect biodiversity.
But he told his audience of African leaders that the UK will continue to support the extraction of gas and oil.
Mr Johnson also sought to attract talented Africans to live and work in the UK, promising that an overhaul of the immigration system after Brexit would put “people before passports” by focusing on individuals’ personal abilities rather than their country of origin.
The prime minister spoke with Prince Harry on the margins of the summit in Docklands, a day after the Duke of Sussex said that he had “no other option” than to step back from his role as a senior royal.
Mr Johnson said that, as part of its efforts to limit climate change and protect biodiversity, the UK will no longer permit the use of taxpayer’s money for direct official development assistance, investment, export credits or trade promotion for thermal coal mining or coal-powered energy plants overseas.
“There’s no point in the UK reducing the amount of coal we burn if we then trundle over to Africa and line our pockets by encouraging African states to use more of it,” he said.
“To put it simply not another penny of UK taxpayers’ money will be directly invested in digging up coal or burning it for electricity.”
Friends of the Earth climate campaigner Rachel Kennerley responded: “Ending support for overseas coal is long-overdue – the prime minister must now demonstrate his determination to confront the climate crisis by pulling the plug on UK funding for gas and oil projects abroad too.
“UK investment should be targeted at projects that use energy from the sun, tides and wind, increasing energy access and decreasing poverty – as well as helping people abroad to deal with the impacts of the climate crisis they are already experiencing.”
And Andrew Norton, the director of the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), said: “The UK government’s decision to stop providing aid to support coal projects is long overdue and a welcome step in the right direction ― but it needs to go further.
“To meet the scale of the climate crisis, it must stop subsidising all fossil fuel exploration and production. And the climate finance it has committed to help developing countries must be geared to meet local people’s priorities and needs in their efforts to develop and thrive in the face of climate change.”
Mr Johnson told his audience of African leaders that from now on, the UK will focus on supporting the transition to lower or zero carbon alternatives to coal.
He made clear that this would involve “helping you extract and use oil and gas in the cleanest, greenest way possible” as well as “turbo-charging” support for renewable technologies such as solar, wind and hydro-electric power.
He dismissed as a “myth” the idea that switching to renewable energy sources would hold back growth.
“Here in the UK, we have cut CO2 emissions by 42 per cent since 1990 and yet GDP has gone up by 67 per cent,” he said.
“We stand ready to helming you do the same, tackling the causes of climate change while also delivering the power needed to unlock the potential of all your people.”
The PM was meeting presidents from Rwanda, Ghana and Nigeria at the summit, and was due to have talks with the premiers of Egypt and Kenya at Downing Street on Tuesday.
But the summit risked being overshadowed by the leak of documents alleging that Africa’s richest woman amassed her fortune by corruption and exploiting her nation.
Isabel dos Santos was forced to deny allegations in the BBC and The Guardian that she got access to lucrative deals involving land, diamonds, oil and telecoms when her father was president of Angola.