Fossil-fuel subsidies: "perverse and destructive".

Recharge: “At a time when carbon emissions are destroying the planet and government budgets are under severe pressure, it is perverse that the world’s taxpayers are providing the fossil-fuel industry with almost $2trn of subsidies every year — more than 20 times as much as renewables.”
“Phasing out these hand-outs would reduce CO2 emissions significantly and enable renewables to compete on a level playing field, while the money saved could be used to subsidise the transition to clean energy or help the world deal with a warmer planet. Currently, the richest countries are spending six times more on supporting fossil fuels than on helping poorer nations adapt to climate change, according to a London think-tank, the Overseas Development Institute (ODI).
“Think about it,” says Christine Lagarde, managing director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). “We are subsidising the very behaviour that is destroying our planet, and on an enormous scale.”
While there is a worldwide consensus that this situation has to change, virtually nothing is actually being done about it.
….New analysis by Washington-based think-tank Worldwatch Institute shows that global subsidy estimates range from $544bn to $1.9trn a year, depending on how a subsidy is defined and calculated — whether it includes tax breaks on production, direct subsidies to consumers, or harder-to-quantify “externalities”.
Many governments simply do not know how much they are spending on subsidising dirty fuels, as many forms of support have never been quantified, according to the International Institute for Sustainable Development’s Global Subsidies Initiative. Where information does exist, it is scattered across different ministries, as well as across regional and local governments, and is rarely made publicly available.
….But the biggest stumbling block to ending the subsidies is undoubtedly the unwillingness of politicians to act — and that is largely due to the power and influence of Big Oil and Big Coal.
….Politicians around the world rely on donations from fossil-fuel corporations. In the US, where election campaign costs can be eye-wateringly high, politicians of both main parties routinely accept thousands of dollars from these companies. In the current Congress, $8m has so far been accepted by House representatives, with 84% going to Republicans, while more than $3m has gone to Senators — 67% of which went to Republicans, according to US advocacy group Oil Change International.
To remove production subsidies, Congress would have to pass legislation to eliminate 12 preferential tax provisions related to coal, oil and gas. Efforts to remove even small portions of these subsidies have been resoundingly defeated in Congress, with lawmakers’ arguments echoing those of the lobby groups — that removal of tax breaks and other indirect subsidies would harm the economy.
….As former US vice-president Al Gore says: “American democracy has been hacked. The US Congress… is now incapable of passing laws without permission from the corporate lobbies and other special interests that control their campaign finances.”
….Fatih Birol, chief economist at the International Energy Agency (IEA), says fossil-fuel subsidies are “public enemy number one to sustainable energy development”.
….Fossil-fuel companies are quick to claim that renewables are only economically viable due to government subsidies, but the cost of green energy is dropping rapidly. According to Deutsche Bank, solar power is cheaper than grid electricity in ten major markets, including Italy and India, while wind energy is less expensive than other sources in countries such as Brazil and Australia.
Despite the political impasses, there are some chinks of light on the horizon, with important global bodies such as the UN, IMF, OECD and IEA all making increasingly strident calls for change.
The G20 leaders have asked their finance ministers to provide reports on the issue by the next G20 meeting in Brisbane, Australia, in November, and a European Commission report on the subsidies is expected in September.
UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon’s climate change summit, also in September, is seen as a key opportunity for world leaders to make specific pledges as to how they will replace fossil-fuel subsidies.
….“If there’s anyone around to write the history of the 21st century,” says Sawyer, “some of the key questions that will be asked are, ‘why did it take so long to address the climate change threat?’; and ‘why weren’t the deliberate misinformation campaigns from the fossil-fuels industry — about climate, renewables and economics — exposed much sooner?’.
“I believe one day they will be seen as the greatest crimes against humanity in human history. I hope I live long enough to see the trials begin; and I hope I live long enough to see politicians with the courage to take them on”.”