Of all the dumb things to do in an age of climate change, subsidising fossil fuels is the dumbest. The best thing for fossil fuels is ultimately to leave them in the ground, so to blow public money on finding and burning more oil, coal and gas is the opposite of what we need to be doing. It drives climate change, and tilts the playing field against clean energy.
So in 2009 the G7 quite rightly promised to wind down their subsidy programmes. How are they doing on that? The Overseas Development Institute has been keeping track of developments, and unfortunately, all seven countries continue to subsidise fossil fuels. All seven have brought in new initiatives since 2016.
Some countries have at least made some steps in the right direction. France came top in the rankings for ending coal finance both domestically and internationally. The United States scores worse for reversing all its progress so far and trumping up dirty fuels.
There are multiple places where subsidies can be used. The first step is public support for exploration, then production. Subsidies can be used at the power generation stage, or one step further down the line by making it cheaper for people to use fossil fuels.
The ODI has produced a scorecard that ranks countries according to different criteria, including progress on each of those stages. They also look at pledges and transparency, and countries can perform very differently in different categories. Britain, for example, comes 1st in its pledges and 4th overall, but last for transparency. This is because Britain denies that it has any subsidies. It does – the government just uses its own definition of subsidy so that it can carry on. That’s a bit like renaming meats ‘veatstables’ and then claiming to be a vegetarian.