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Fossil fuel subsidies “are public enemy number one”

Fossil fuel subsidies amount to little more than an incentive to pollute and as such are “public enemy number one to sustainable development” Fatih Birol, Chief Economist at the International Energy Agency said at the European Wind Energy Association’s (EWEA) recent annual conference.

Fatih Birol of the International Energy Agency at the EWEA conference this weekBirol added that subsidies for fossil fuels-which amounted to half a trillion US dollars worldwide in 2011-keep oil and gas artificially cheap and made it hard for clean alternatives, like wind, to compete.

In a blog post on EWEA’s website, it is revealed how Christian Kjaer, the association’s CEO, expressed his concern to the conference, about how Europeans are transferring a rising share of their wealth to just a handful of fossil fuel exporting countries.

“In 2009 the EU spent €274 billion on fossil fuels imports – 2.1 per cent of its GDP, a level which increased by €200 billion or 70 per cent over just three years to 2012,” he said. “Today, EU citizens are spending half a billion Euros more each day on fossil fuel imports than they were three years ago,” he told the conference.

“Fossil fuel subsidies do not make sense,” Birol asserted. Subsidies keep fossil fuels artificially cheap and without a phasing out of fossil fuel subsidies, we will not reach our climate targets. “I hope governments pay attention this,” Birol added.An oil rig with gas flare-subsidised polluting?

“One of the main arguments to keep fossil fuel subsidies is that they protect the poor, but studies show that 80 per cent of fossil fuel subsidies go to middle and high income households,” Birol said.

With plans across Europe to boost the uptake of battery electric and fuel cell electric cars, it is becoming increasingly important to consider how the electricity which powers them is produced.

While renewables such as wind and tidal energy are increasingly powering our homes and cars, progress is being held back by subsidies for the gas and oil industries which still make the majority of our energy mix.

One of the biggest challenges wind energy faces today is the lack of predictability of government policies, and not the lack of predictability of wind power, Birol said at the opening session of the conference in Vienna on Monday. “If governments would be predictable we would win this game,” he added.

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Faye Sunderland

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Paul Scott

"Internalize the Externalities". This is a mantra we should all adopt.

Transitioning from dirty, carbon-based energy to renewables will happen fast once we begin to make the polluters pay. Everyone who uses subsidized dirty energy will reconsider once made to pay the full price.

Consider the energy scene 100 years from now. Clearly, we'll have transitioned to renewable electricity for personal transportation by then. The key is to make it happen sooner than later. The costs to transition pale by comparison to the costs if we don't.

Any "leader" who resists needs to be replaced immediately.

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