Amid Runaway Warming, Richest Nations Spend $200 Billion Backing Fossil Fuels

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‘The time is ripe for countries to demonstrate they are serious about combating climate change’

coal_by_robert_s_donovan.jpgThe OECD Inventory identified 800 separate spending programs and tax breaks used by governments in the 40 industrial or emerging economies that encourage oil, gas, and coal development. (Photo: Robert S. Donovan/cc/flickr)

One of the greatest contradictions of our time is that while world leaders profess concern over a rapidly warming planet, they continue to spend hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars subsidizing the fossil fuel industries that are driving climate change.

In fact, according to a new report released on Monday by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)—a global forum on economic policy—the world’s richest nations spend roughly $160-200 billion each year supporting fossil fuel consumption and production.

“We’re totally schizophrenic,” said Angel Gurría, secretary-general of the Paris-based organization. “We’re trying to reduce emissions, and we subsidize the consumption of fossil fuels. These policies are not obsolete, they’re dangerous legacies of a bygone era when pollution was viewed as a tolerable side effect of economic growth. They should be erased from the books.”

Further, Gurría pointed out that governments “are spending almost twice as much money supporting fossil fuels as is needed to meet the climate-finance objectives set by the international community, which call for mobilizing $100 billion a year by 2020.”

The OECD Inventory identified 800 separate spending programs and tax breaks used by the governments of its 34 member countries, plus six key emerging economies—Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Russia and South Africa—that encourage oil, gas, and coal development.

“The measures counted by the OECD covered some of the most obscure pieces of national tax codes—including direct controls on gasoline prices, depreciation allowances for oil drillers, breaks for refiners, credits for infrastructure like pipelines and stimulus for technology to clean up coal emissions,” Bloomberg reports.

Such subsidies, the report notes, distort costs and prices, “create inefficiencies in the way we generate and use energy,” are costly for governments, and—most importantly—”undermine efforts to make our economies less carbon-intensive while exacerbating the damage to human health caused by air pollution.”

The warning comes as representatives are preparing to meet in New York for the UN Sustainable Development Summit next week to set new development goals ahead of the upcoming COP21 climate talks in Paris in November and December.

“The time is ripe for countries to demonstrate they are serious about combating climate change,” Gurría added, “and reforming harmful fossil fuel support is a good place to start.”

Indeed, a separate report published by Greenpeace on Monday argues that it is possible to reach 100 percent renewable energy by 2050 if countries “prioritize keeping coal, oil and gas in the ground while accelerating the transition to clean energy like wind and solar.”

Last week, climate activists staged a symbolic ‘tug-of-war’ between polluting fossil fuels and renewable energy as they protested outside a meeting of Europe’s Environment Ministers as they hashed out EU’s negotiating position for the Paris climate summit.

EU leaders have agreed to cut emissions by 40 percent compared to 1990 levels by 2030, and said they won’t settle for anything less than legally binding targets that will be reviewed every five years. In comparison, the U.S. has put forth a non-binding pledge to cut emissions by 26-28 percent from 2005 levels by 2025.

Environmentalists, backed by statements made by the UN’s own climate chief Christiana Figueres, agree that such pledges fall drastically short of what’s needed to keep global warming beneath 2°C global warming target.

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