G20 Hints to Eliminating Fossil Fuel Subsidies | 16/11/14
by John Brian Shannon
As the G20 Summit wraps up in Brisbane, Australia, leaders discussed the eventual elimination of the massive global subsidies paid to the fossil fuel industry which topped some $600 billion dollars for 2014, slightly more than last year’s $550 billion and 2012’s $500 billion.
Meanwhile, non-polluting renewable energy continues to receive peanuts — not even approaching $100 billion dollars worldwide.
Clean energy does have it’s detractors, similar to the criticisms levelled by the detractors of aircraft travel 100 years ago when people were more used to traveling by ship and by train. “The times, they are a’changin’,” applies in this century too!
“We do it this way, because we’ve always done it this way,” is no longer good enough. The fossil fuel industry provides the fuel for the world’s transportation industry and it is the most heavily subsidized industry on the planet and has been given carte blanche to operate in any way it sees fit.
Fine. We needed the oil, whatever has taken place has taken place with our tacit approval. But with the very real effects of climate change now upon us, not to mention the more poignant effects on human health by breathing polluted air and drinking fracked water, fossil fuel now requires a relook.
It’s not just climate and individual health concerns that are driving the discussion, health care systems around the world are now realizing that a good portion of disease and mortality are directly relatable to environmental factors. In major industrialized nations, billions of dollars in health care dollars are spent to repair the damage to people’s health caused by fossil fuel emissions. It’s not a few billion ‘here and there’ it may be as high as 1/3rd of all health care spending in the world’s most industrialized nations.
The cost of fossil is becoming a very large number for even the richest countries
- Climate: For each 1 degree of climate increase the world will spend 1 trillion dollars to counter agricultural and reservoir drought, sea level rise, abnormal storm activity and for land remediation.
- Health: Our sophisticated health care systems can now argue with more accurate statistical proofs that fossil fuel burning contributes to human mortality and disease than in decades past.
- Costs: $600 billion dollars in subsides is a lot for the world’s nations to bear. And that number continues to grow each year as all of the ‘easy oil’ and ‘easy gas’ is already tapped and locations with special extraction methods must be employed.
From the G20 Energy Sustainability Working Group 2014, Co-chair’s Report
Inefficient fossil fuel subsidies
G20 members reported to G20 finance ministers in September on their progress towards meeting the G20 commitment, initially made at the 2009 Pittsburgh summit and reaffirmed at subsequent summits, to “rationalize and phase out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies that encourage wasteful consumption over the medium term.”
The ESWG benefitted from updates on the preparations for the first round of voluntary peer reviews involving the United States and China. A second round of voluntary peer reviews involving other G20 countries is expected to commence in mid – 2015. Germany has announced it will participate in the second round.
In response to a request from leaders at the 2013 Saint Petersburg summit, the ESWG tasked the World Bank Group, in consultation with other relevant international organisations, to prepare a report on transitional policies to assist the poor while phasing out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies that encourage wasteful consumption.
The World Bank Group provided regular updates to the ESWG through the year and the final report was delivered to finance ministers in September. — Read the full report here.
It looks like ‘business as usual’ is set towards change in the energy industry
Only fossil fuel superpowers Australia (coal), Canada (coal, oil, tar-sands petroleum, fracked gas and conventional gas, deepsea oil extraction), and Saudi Arabia (oil), alone out of the G20 did not see fit to endorse the Energy Sustainability Working Group 2014 report.
No surprise there. However, the day is coming when the costs of not switching to clean energy will far exceed the costs of switching. If all energy subsidies (fossil fuel subsidies and renewable energy subsidies) were magically and instantly removed — that day would be today.