G20: Need to switch subsidies from fossil fuel to renewables



Ahead of the global climate change summit Conference of Parties (COP21), a study on the pattern of G20 countries subsidising fossil fuel production over renewables has been released. The G20 members are spending USD 452 billion a year subsidising fossil fuel production, which is four times more than the global spending on renewable energy subsidies, despite pledging to phase out fossil fuel support to tackle climate change.

A UK-based think-tank, Overseas Development Institute (ODI), and research group Oil Change International said in its report that the global subsidies for renewable energy production amount to just USD 121 billion a year. Focusing on the greater support given to fossil fuels than to clean energy technologies by the G20, the world’s biggest economies, the report said that it makes it harder to cut greenhouse gas emissions and slow climate change. The report comes a few days ahead of the G20 summit in Antalya, Turkey, on November 15-16.

“G20 governments are paying fossil fuel producers to undermine their own policies on climate change,” ODI’s Shelagh Whitley said. “Scrapping these subsidies would rebalance energy markets and allow a level playing field for clean and efficient alternatives,” added Ms Whitley.

According to the report, the G20 countries backed calls to phase out fossil fuel subsidies at meetings in 2009 and 2014, but are not making significant progress. The G20 governments have been asked to adopt strict timelines for phasing out fossil fuel subsidies and transfer government financial support to greener forms of energy. At present, subsidies to oil and coal producers include direct payments such as grants, loans and equity, tax credits, and price supports, according to the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

The money provided by G20 governments for fossil fuel production in 2013 and 2014 included nearly USD 78 billion a year in national subsidies, state-owned company investments of USD 286 billion, and other public finance support valued at USD 88 billion, the report stated. The highest national subsidies among the G20, estimated at around USD 23 billion, were provided by Russia.

Among the developed countries, the United Kingdom was the only nation to significantly increase support for its fossil fuel industry, providing more tax breaks and industry support in 2015 for companies extracting oil from the North Sea, whose oilfields are in decline. US President Barack Obama has been pushing to scrap fossil fuel subsidies, despite the fact that the world’s largest economy spent more than USD 20 billion in national subsidies, according to the report. The largest fossil fuel extraction was by Chinese state-owned firms, significantly more than the other G20 countries, which amounted to nearly USD 77 billion annually.

Giving tax breaks to support its programme of building more coal-fired plants than any other OECD country, Turkey is potentially raising its greenhouse gas emissions by 94 percent over the next 15 years. “Three-quarters of all proven reserves of oil, gas and coal must stay in the ground to give the world a two-in-three chance of keeping global temperatures from rising by more than 2 degrees centigrade, the threshold for major climate change,” the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) had said in 2014. The G20 countries would need to look at switching from the current rate of subsidies for fossil fuels to subsidising renewables.



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