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Connie Hedegaard
Published: Saturday 6 April 2013
Parliamentarians, United Nations representatives and the International Energy Agency (IEA) alike agreed that ending dependency on fossil fuels is one of the most urgent steps needed to combat it effectively.

Stop Paying the Polluters

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“When the winds of change blow,” says an old Chinese proverb, “some build walls, and others build wind mills.”

These same words closed the meeting in March of the Climate Parliament, a forum in Brussels that brought together legislators from around the world who are committed to the fight against climate change. Parliamentarians, United Nations representatives and the International Energy Agency (IEA) alike agreed that ending dependency on fossil fuels is one of the most urgent steps needed to combat it effectively.

The voices from the Climate Parliament join a growing crescendo of influential actors who are speaking out about the need to clean up our energy habits. During January’s World Economic Forum in Davos, Lord Nicholas Stern, author of a well-known report outlining the measures that the world should take to avoid runaway climate change, admitted that the planet is on track to warm by four degrees Celsius this century. Looking back, Stern said, his report could have been more insistent about the need to take determined action to avoid the catastrophic risks that this level of warming implies.

Follow Project Syndicate on Facebook or Twitter. For more from Connie Hedegaard, click here.

Stern’s sentiment was echoed by Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, who pleaded in favor of stronger climate action to prevent future generations being “roasted, toasted, fried, and grilled.” And World Bank President Jim Yong Kim announced that his institution would prioritize the fight against climate change and focus on promoting, among other measures, the elimination of subsidies doled out to the fossil-fuel industry.

With this pledge, the World Bank joined an expanding list of international bodies, including the UN, the IMF, and the OECD, that are calling for an end to such subsidies. Globally, we are on track to reach an international climate deal. But this will still take time, while the need for action will not wait. Harnessing the existing broad consensus against fossil-fuel subsidies is possible even in the absence of a legal agreement, and could quickly have a significant positive impact.

According to the IEA, fossil-fuel subsidies rose by almost 30%, to $523 billion, in 2011. Meanwhile,the UN Environment Program reports that global investment in renewable energy totaled only $257 billion in 2011.

In other words, we are doing exactly the opposite of what we should be doing. Support for energy efficiency and renewable energy sources is lagging, while governments around the world spend hundreds of billions of dollars subsidizing an incipient catastrophe. This must change.

As European Commissioner for Climate Action, I am particularly keen to see three international financial institutions – the European Investment Bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and the World Bank – join with their EU and OECD partners to take a lead role in eliminating public support for fossil fuels. Together, these three institutions lend more than €130 billion ($168 billion) annually for projects in Europe and beyond, and maintain a strong advisory role in beneficiary countries. This year provides an especially important opportunity to use this potential for action.

All three institutions have announced reviews of their lending policies for the energy sector. The outcome will underpin their lending over the next 4-6 years, and send a strong political and financial signal about worldwide commitment to addressing climate change. Four to six years is also the interval over which climate scientists predict that greenhouse-gas emissions must peak and start to be reduced if the world is to have any hope for a decent future.

Multilateral lenders can lead by example by restricting conditions for public financing of coal, the most damaging fossil fuel, and by pressing for greater transparency in reporting on emissions. Encouraging investments in renewable energy and increased energy efficiency will have the added benefit of boosting long-term self-reliance and resilience against the volatility of fossil fuel prices.

More broadly, international financial institutions should guide public and private investments alike away from a short-term logic. Supported by a stable, long-term climate-policy framework, public financing can drive the decarbonization of our energy system and our economies.

Instead of offering unsustainable and environmentally damaging subsidies for fossil fuels, public finance should encourage the development of new industries and businesses that are emerging in the course of the low-carbon transition. The industries of the future, which will create jobs that last, are those that will use scarce resources efficiently, and that can pay the real environmental and health costs of the resources that they use.

ABOUT Connie Hedegaard

Connie Hedegaard is EU Commissioner for Climate Action.

In the US the major oil

In the US the major oil producers continue to be subsidized to the tune of $4.3 Billion per year. The debate over the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline continues while governments restrict the development of renewable energy facilities. It is now estimated that the US will become a net energy exporter within the next 20 years. In Canada, the mining of the tar sands expands as they destroy the forests of northern Alberta and surrounding regions. These are the second largest carbon sink on the planet. The power of the oil lobby appears to be unstoppable. If we are to preserve the planet for coming generations we must take the steps necessary to do so. Each passing year without action increases the urgency. Those of us willing to accept the scientific evidence understand that failing to act, and act both forcefully and soon, is to condemn future generations to the type depravations not seen since the dark ages.
To prevent the coming catastrophe we must: Dramatically reduce the use of fossil fuels. Since the major use of refined oil products (gasoline, etc.) is for transportation it is necessary that the switch to CNG be made rapidly as the only viable current fuel to fill this need. Advancement in the science of electric power must accelerate so the phase out of even CNG can occur. Increased use of solar and wind power for the production of electric power is a must. New designs in thermal solar power enable the production of electricity even when the sun does not shine. This will enable the development of base power from renewable sources. Finally, as the quantity of CO2 in the atmosphere and the oceans continues to rise, it is necessary to take aggressive action to prevent further increase and, hopefully, even reduce the levels. This can be accomplished by engaging in a massive program of tree planting.. The use of public lands, right-of-ways, fallowed farm lands and other open space is mandatory. Governments can provide the seedlings (using indigenous varieties for each area) while volunteers and service organizations (Kiwanis, Rotary, etc.) can provide the labor. Failing to act is to doom the next generations to poverty, starvation and depravation beyond our imagination. It is not considered wise to suggest that insurrections, violence and mayhem may ensue as people struggle to survive in a world of ever scarcer resources. The consequences of doing nothing are far too dyer to ignore.

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