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Fossil Fuel and a disunited world!

By Kayode Adeoye
06 July 2016   |   12:32 am
In a rehashed report done for the Washington post by Simon Denyer, their Beijing Correspondent on July 1, 2016, he details how the fossil fuel phase-out meetings between the rich nations ...
PHOTO:advisoranalyst

PHOTO:advisoranalyst

In a rehashed report done for the Washington post by Simon Denyer, their Beijing Correspondent on July 1, 2016, he details how the fossil fuel phase-out meetings between the rich nations have been deadlocked to date.

Energy ministers from the world’s richest major economies have failed to reach agreement on a deadline to phase out hundreds of billions of dollars in government subsidies for fossil fuels that campaigners say are helping to propel the globe toward potentially devastating climate change. Ministers from the group of 20 major economies met in Beijing on Wednesday and Thursday of last week but failed to reach agreement on a deadline, despite Chinese and American efforts and a joint appeal from 200 non-governmental organizations. The group of seven richest economies last month urged all countries to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies by 2025.

At a separate annual meeting in June, the United States and China agreed to push for a firm target date to set a summit of G-20 leaders in Hangzhou in September. Non-governmental groups are urging a full and equitable phase-out of all fossil fuel subsidies by 2020, starting with the elimination of all subsidies for fossil fuel exploration and coal production. Energy ministers from the G-20 failed to reach agreement on a deadline last week.

The communiqué repeats the importance of moving towards a subsidy reduction, United States Energy Secretary Ernst Moniz told reporters in Beijing. Though, within the G-20, there are different views on how fast and how aggressive one can be on that. Xinhua, Chinese State news agency reported that the communiqué stressed the need to boost renewable energy investment and consumption. Moniz said the G-20 had not agreed on a specific timeline to eliminate subsidies, but that the United States believed that by 2025 or 2030, we’d like to see very substantial progress. A 2015 report by the British think tank, Overseas Development Institute, along with Oil Change International, calculated that the G-20 major economies subsidize fossil fuel production to the tune of $444 billion a year, marrying “bad economics with potentially disastrous effects on the environment.”

Russia spends some $23 billion in annual subsidies while the United States spends $20 billion in spite of President Obama’s call to end tax breaks on the fossil fuel industry, the report said. China spends $3 billion while Britain is one of the few G-20 countries increasing fossil fuel subsidies and cutting back on investment in renewable energy, it estimated. “It is tantamount to G-20 governments allowing fossil fuel producers to undermine national climate commitments, while paying them for the privilege,” the report said.

A promise to cut subsidies was first made at G-20 meeting in Pittsburgh in 2009 but since then, very little progress has been made until the G-7 finally set a target date last month, said Li Shuo, a climate energy campaigner at Greenpeace. “We think that it is critical that the G-20 follows this approach and the timeline should be even earlier,” he said. Saudi Arabia has been the major blocker of the deal at the G-20, Li said, while the United States and China want to take advantage of low prices by making progress this year.

“It’s not clear how long this window will last, so it’s important to take maximum advantage of it,” he said. Moniz said the Saudis had already lowered fuel subsidies as part of an economic restructuring package, and were promising a second phase out of subsidy cuts. “They are realizing, just as the other fuel producing countries are, that promoting inefficient use of this valuable resource has to end,” he said. “Now, they have to look at how they are going to structure their safety net programs.”

He played down expectations that a firm date for eliminating subsidies could be agreed. At United Nations talks last year, countries agreed to take action to curb emissions in an effort to keep temperature rises to 20C but officials and experts agree much more needs to be done to reach that goal. In an interview, Moniz said the Paris accord was a “major first step” but he underlined the urgency of action to curb global greenhouse gas emissions especially, given the risk of “extremely disruptive” events such as a significant rise in sea levels caused by a rapid melting of the Arctic cap. “If anything, what’s been disturbing is that many things are happening more quickly than the various models have predicted,” he said. “It’s not only the target in terms of carbon emissions, it’s when you get there and you have to get there very quickly.”

Moniz said the United States would eventually need legislative action in Congress to reach longer –term emissions goals, but he said that he believed public pressure for Congress to act would mount as sea levels rise and Mother “Nature’s voice” continues to get louder.

Politics and economies of individual nations will continue to frustrate agreements making the world disunited in this regard. Since the rich nations cannot agree on the subsidy phase out for fossil fuel, the poor nations on whom they depend majorly for supplies will have to start looking away from fossil fuel while doing all they can to maximize the moment in exports and utilities. Some lessons for Nigeria, perhaps.

• Kayode Adeoye is an energy expert in Lagos.