World's Biggest Economies Still Backing Fossil Fuels
That is almost four times the entire world’s subsidies to the rapidly growing renewable energy sector, as the International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates total global renewables subsidies in 2013 at $121bn.
The G20 group agreed in 2009 to phase out fossil fuel subsidies “in the medium term,” a pledge that was repeated at its 2014 meeting in Brisbane.
Their “Empty Promises” report on G20 subsidies to oil, gas and coal production says researchers found that G20 support to fossil fuel production now totals $452bn.
The report singles out the UK for particular criticism, saying it “stands out as the only G7 nation significantly ramping up its support for the fossil fuel industry, with even more tax breaks and industry support handed out to companies operating in the North Sea in 2015.”
A similar report by the two groups a year ago said G20 subsidies for fossil fuel exploration alone amounted to an estimated $88bn annually.
The G20’s continued support for fuels—whose use increases greenhouse gas emissions and increases the risk of irreversible and catastrophic climate change—ignores the global imperatives to keep most current fossil fuel reserves in the ground.
It also disregards the faltering economic returns from coal and from oil and gas reserves, which are increasingly difficult to exploit.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says at least three-quarters of proven reserves of oil, gas and coal must stay in the ground in order for the planet to have a two-in-three chance of remaining below the internationally-agreed 2C climate change threshold.
There is continuing scientific debate over how much of the world’s fossil fuels should remain unexploited, with many estimates ranging from a fifth to a third. The UN climate change conference in Paris, starting on Nov. 30, is likely to see a keen debate on the issue.
The ODI/OCI report, published before the G20 summit in the Turkish city of Antalya, examines three types of G20 government support in 2013 and 2014—the most recent years with comparable data.
It looks at national subsidies extended through direct spending and tax breaks; investment by state-owned enterprises, both domestically and internationally; and public finance extended through, for example, loans from government-owned banks and financial institutions.
Japan provided more public finance for fossil fuel production in 2013 and 2014 than any other G20 country, averaging $19bn per year—$2.8bn of that for coal alone. The U.S. provided more than $20bn in national subsidies, despite calls from President Obama to scrap support to fossil fuels.
Russia provided almost $23bn in national subsidies—the highest of all the G20 countries—and China’s investment in fossil fuel production at home and abroad amounted to almost $77bn annually.
Turkey, this year’s G20 host, is giving tax breaks to support its program of building more coal plants than any other OECD country, potentially raising its own greenhouse gas emissions by 94 percent over the next 15 years.
At the end of September, the U.S. and China agreed to give priority to the establishment of a firm deadline for the phase-out of fossil fuel subsidies as a key task during China’s G20 presidency in 2016.
The report recommends G20 governments adopt strict timelines for the phase-out of fossil fuel production subsidies, increase transparency through improved reporting of the subsidies and transfer government support to wider public goods, including low-carbon development and universal energy access.
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World leaders and businesses are not putting enough money into adapting to dangerous changes in the climate and must "urgently step up action," according to a report published Thursday by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP).
Adaptation Has a Long Way to Go<p>The Adaptation Gap Report, now in its 5th year, finds "huge gaps" between what world leaders agreed to do under the 2015 <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/5-years-paris-climate-agreement/a-55901139" target="_blank">Paris Agreement</a> and what they need to do to keep their citizens safe from climate change.</p><p>A review by the Global Adaptation Mapping Initiative of almost 1,700 examples of climate adaptation found that a third were in the early stages of implementation — and only 3% had reached the point of reducing risks.</p><p>Disasters like storms and droughts have grown stronger than they should be because people have warmed the planet by burning fossil fuels and chopping down rainforests. The world has heated by more than 1.1 degrees Celsius since the Industrial Revolution and is on track to warm by about 3°C by the end of the century.</p><p>If world leaders <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/climate-change-performance-index-how-far-have-we-come/a-55846406" target="_blank">deliver on recent pledges</a> to bring emissions to <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/joe-bidens-climate-pledges-are-they-realistic/a-56173821" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">net-zero</a> by the middle of the century, they could almost limit warming to 2°C. The target of the Paris Agreement, however, is to reach a target well below that — ideally 1.5°C. </p><p>There are two ways, scientists say, to lessen the pain that warming will bring: mitigating climate change by cutting carbon pollution and adapting to the hotter, less stable world it brings.</p>
The Cost of Climate Adaptation<p>About three-quarters of the world's countries have national plans to adapt to climate change, according to the report, but most lack the regulations, incentives and funding to make them work.</p><p>More than a decade ago, rich countries most responsible for climate change pledged to mobilize $100 billion a year by 2020 in climate finance for poorer countries. UNEP says it is "impossible to answer" whether that goal has been met, while an OECD study published in November found that between 2013 and 2018, the target sum had not once been achieved. Even in 2018, which recorded the highest level of contributions, rich countries were still $20 billion short.</p><p>The yearly adaptation costs for developing countries alone are estimated at $70 billion. This figure is expected to at least double by the end of the decade as temperatures rise, and will hit $280-500 billion by 2050, according to the report.</p><p>But failing to adapt is even more expensive.</p><p>When powerful storms like cyclones Fani and Bulbul struck South Asia, early-warning systems allowed governments to move millions of people out of danger at short notice. Storms of similar strength that have hit East Africa, like <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/zimbabwe-after-cyclone-idai-building-climate-friendly-practices/a-54251885" target="_blank">cyclones Idai</a> and Kenneth, have proved more deadly because fewer people were evacuated before disaster struck.</p><p>The Global Commission on Adaptation estimated in 2019 that a $1.8 trillion investment in early warning systems, buildings, agriculture, mangroves and water resources could reap $7.1 trillion in benefits from economic activity and avoided costs when disasters strike.</p>
Exploring Nature-Based Solutions<p>The report also highlights how restoring nature can protect people from climate change while benefiting local communities and ecology.</p><p><a href="https://www.dw.com/en/climate-fires-risk-climate-change-bushfires-australia-california-extreme-weather-firefighters/a-54817927" target="_blank">Wildfires</a>, for instance, could be made less punishing by restoring grasslands and regularly burning the land in controlled settings. Indigenous communities from Australia to Canada have done this for millennia in a way that encourages plant growth while reducing the risk of uncontrolled wildfires. Reforestation, meanwhile, can stop soil erosion and flooding during heavy rainfall while trapping carbon and protecting wildlife.</p><p>In countries like Brazil and Malaysia, governments could better protect coastal homes from floods and storms by restoring <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/mudflats-mangroves-and-marshes-the-great-coastal-protectors/a-50628747" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">mangroves</a> — tangled trees that grow in tropical swamps. As well as anchoring sediments and absorbing the crash of waves, mangroves can store carbon, help fish populations grow and boost local economies through tourism. </p><p>While nature-based solutions are often cheaper than building hard infrastructure, their funding makes up a "tiny fraction" of adaptation finance, the report authors wrote. An analysis of four global climate funds that spent $94 billion on adaptation projects found that just $12 billion went to nature-based solutions and little of this was spent implementing projects on the ground.</p><p>But little is known about their long-term effectiveness. At higher temperatures, the effects of climate change may be so great that they overwhelm natural defenses like mangroves.</p><p>By 2050, <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/rising-sea-levels-should-we-let-the-ocean-in-a-50704953/a-50704953" target="_blank">coastal floods</a> that used to hit once a century will strike many cities every year, according to a 2019 report on oceans by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the gold standard on climate science. This could force dense cities on low-lying coasts to build higher sea walls, like in Indonesia and South Korea, or evacuate entire communities from sinking islands, like in Fiji.</p><p>It's not a case of replacing infrastructure, said Matthias Garschagen, a geographer at Ludwig Maximilian University in Germany and IPCC author, who was not involved in the UNEP report. "The case for nature-based solutions is often misinterpreted as a battle... but they're part of a toolkit that we've ignored for too long."</p>
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