Ocean Mist

Issues and trends shaping our environment, health and economy

25 Oct 2015

Fossil fuel subsidies and sustainability

Posted by Michael Keating

As government leaders prepare to head to the Paris climate summit on November 30, the world is still behind the eight ball when it comes to even slowing greenhouse gas emissions. It is not even on track to meet the target agreed to by governments to limit the long-term rise in the average global temperature to no more than 2 degrees Celsius.

Global greenhouse gas emissions are increasing rapidly, and energy use is the single largest source. Fossil fuels make up 82 per cent of global commercial energy, the same as 25 years ago. Renewables are only forecast to reduce fossil fuels to around 75 per over the next two decades. At the same time the International Energy Agency has forecast that global energy demand will grow by 37 per cent by 2040. In other words, emissions are still predicted to go up even we know they need to come down.

How can we turn around this unsustainable trend? One way is to eliminate subsidies for fossil fuels. The International Energy Agency says governments around the world subsidize fossil fuels to the tune of $550 billion a year—more than five times greater than supports for renewable energy. Canada’s Pembina Institute estimates that this country subsidizes fossil fuels by close to $1 billion a year. The newly elected federal Liberal government said in its election platform: “We will fulfill our G20 commitment and phase out subsidies for the fossil fuel industry over the medium term.” This message has been reinforced by a new report that says removing fossil fuel subsidies and putting just 30 per cent of the savings into renewables and energy efficiency would cut greenhouse gas emissions by an estimated 25 per cent in 20 countries it studied. The study Tackling Fossil Fuel Subsidies and Climate Change: Levelling the energy playing field was done by the International Institute for Sustainable Development and the Nordic Council of Ministers.

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