G20 Meets This Weekend, Tarred By Fossil Fuel Subsidies, Australia's Reversal

The US-China agreement on climate change announced this week is giving Australia’s Prime Minister a headache – the host of the G20 summit this weekend.

Abbott is working hard on unraveling Australia’s climate laws and he’d rather avoid the subject at the G20 meeting – which is supposed to have a big focus on climate change.

So far, Abbott has repealed the country’s carbon tax and his attention is currently on weakening Australia’s Renewable Energy Target – two leading climate change policies. About 70% of clean energy companies and investors have fled this year and emissions are soaring again, and he also approved the world’s biggest coal mine.

Abbott wants to cut the Renewable Energy Target from the current 41,000 gigawatt hours of renewables (20% by 2020) to 26,000. Because of declining energy demand, meeting the original target would give renewables a 27% share of Australia’s electricity. The cuts Abbott wants are so deep that labor and the renewables industry left the table, refusing to negotiate anymore, reports The Guardian. 

400 people stuck their head in the sand in Australia to protest the country’s climate change policies ahead of the G20 meeting:

Climate Change Head in the Sand

How About Fossil Fuel Subsidies?

But the G20 can hardly complain about Australia because they have yet to move on their 2009 pledge to phase out fossil fuel subsidies. 

Believe it or not, G20 countries are still subsidizing coal, oil and gas companies to find new reserves to the tune of $88 billion a year, according to The Fossil Fuel Bailout: G20 Subsidies for Oil, Gas and Coal Exploration. And that’s after agreeing that two-thirds of fossil fuels must stay in the ground for temperature rise to stay below 2°C (3.6°F).  

Discovering new reserves in ever-more risky, remote and deep sea areas costs lots of money, and G20 countries are spending twice that of the top 20 oil and gas companies, which shelled out $37 billion in 2013 for exploration. The US provides the most subsidies for exploration – over $6 billion a year mostly through tax deductions.

"Without government support for exploration and wider fossil-fuel subsidies, large swathes of today’s fossil fuel development would be unprofitable," says the report. "Scrapping these subsidies would begin to create a level playing field between renewables and fossil fuel energy."

Worldwide subsidies for production and use of fossil fuels are estimated around $550 billion per year, compared to $120 billion for renewable energy, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA), in "World Energy Outlook 2014."

"Renewables don’t have a chance if they must compete with artificially low prices for fossil fuels, says Fatih Birol, Chief Economist for IEA. "If a government puts subsidies on fossil fuels, this means ‘Please use energy as inefficiently as possible with your electricity or car – this is giving all the wrong messages. This is why one of our main suggestions for a healthy energy system is to phase out fossil fuel subsidies."

The report warns the world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitters that they will have a lot more work to do to get emissions down if they stay hooked on fossil fuels. 

Efforts to cut emissions by using more renewable energy can’t do the job if fossil fuel use keeps growing, says IEA. If the status quo continues, global energy demand will rise 37% and carbon emissions 20% by 2040. That would lead to a 3.6°C (6.5°F) temperature rise – making catastrophic sea level rise, polar ice cap melt, water shortages and other severe effects pretty much inevitable.

Read our article, World Carbon Emissions Drop 13% With End to Fossil Fuel Subsidies.

Read The Fossil Fuel Bailout: G20 Subsidies for Oil, Gas and Coal Exploration::

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