Fossil Fuels

Published on February 3rd, 2012 | by Zachary Shahan


Cutting Fossil Fuel Subsidies Alone Could Accomplish Half of World’s Carbon Reduction Goals

February 3rd, 2012 by  

Certain political leaders and media outlets would like to convince you that cleantech gets too much money in subsidies. I’ve written so many times here on CleanTechnica about the fact that fossil fuel industry get a staggering amount more in direct and indirect subsidies. But how about this news—half of the world’s targeted carbon emissions reductions could be achieved simply by turning off the fossil-fuel-subsidy spigot! Here’s more from Chris DeMorro on sister site Gas2:

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About the Author

is tryin' to help society help itself (and other species) with the power of the typed word. He spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as its director and chief editor, but he's also the president of Important Media and the director/founder of EV Obsession, Solar Love, and Bikocity. Zach is recognized globally as a solar energy, electric car, and energy storage expert. Zach has long-term investments in TSLA, FSLR, SPWR, SEDG, & ABB — after years of covering solar and EVs, he simply has a lot of faith in these particular companies and feels like they are good cleantech companies to invest in.

  • Edward Kerr

    This issue goes straight to the point of why transitioning away from coal and fossil oil is going to be a much longer and harder process than it should be. In a phrase “special vested interests”. Granted we all have an “interest” in keeping the lights on and our vehicles moving but that’s where “interests” diverge. True the suppliers of benefits of coal and oil want to ” keeping the lights on and our vehicles moving” too, but only as long as they receive the long end of the pecuniary exchange. Fair enough! We all like when our income is somewhat stable.

    However, regardless of the ‘debt’ that we owe to fossil fuels (our entire world was built and, at this time, is dependent on the continued use of fossil fuels) we now know that that “statue quo” cannot continue. We Americans have enjoyed a much lower direct cost for these resources as a result of our hegemonic activities but that, in the end, promises to make us suffer more when the reality of our fantasy hits that wall. And that wall is looming fast.

    “Hopefully. It may be wishful thinking, but a guy can dream.” would become a night mare. With our political process now belonging to the a fore alluded to “vested interests” that ‘nightmare’ (and it’s coming too) will be delayed until such a time as we may never wake up but rather die in our sleep.

    Alternatives are, at this time, like Mighty Mouse. “Here I come to save the day, that means that Mighty Mouse is on the way”. That’s right! Alternatives will eventually save us (if we are saved) and the sooner we “get it” the better. Sadly we will suffer because of greed, stupidity and corruption.

    WE simply have to reclaim the power that is inherently ours, wake up, and get busy. By doing so we can jump start a ‘new economy’, mitigate the damage already done and pass a better world to our grandchildren…but a guy can dream!

    So, Zach, you are right. Ending subsidies for fossils (however painful that would be in the short term) would hasten the day that my dream comes true.

    Thanks for the post……….

  • Anonymous

    The trouble with this is that, in the US, subsidies for fossil fuels really don’t amount to much. According to the OECD report, direct subsidies from the US government run about $13 billion per year. And that’s using what seems like a very broad definition of subsidy.

    Gas: 5.4, including 2.3 for Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program
    Oil: 4.6, including 1.1 for the Strategic Petroleum Reserve
    Coal: 2.9, including 1.9 for Fossil Energy R&D
    (billions of USD per year, average 2008–10)
    from Tables 25.1–3 on pages 344–347 of

    $13 billion is a nice chunk of change, but it’s less impressive when you spread it over the vast amount of energy we get from fossil fuels.

    Per unit of consumption, that works out to
    Gas: 24 trillion ft^3 –> $0.25 / kft^3
    Oil: 19 million bbl per day
    = 7 billion bbl/yr –> $0.7 / bbl
    Coal: 1 billion tons –> $3 / ton

    For electricity, the subsidies for gas and coal work out to about 0.2¢/kW-h.

    • yeah, was waiting for someone to bring that up 😀

      the 2 points i come back to with this, though, are:

      1) historical subsidies. it would take a loooooong time for renewables to compare on that front (no matter how you cut the numbers).
      2) externalities not accounted for from burning fossil fuels. while many would like to say these aren’t subsidies, they are. there are social costs we pay by the gov’t not correcting the market to include these. and they are a form of subsidy. add those in, and it’s a diff story.

      • Anonymous

        1) I recognize the disparity, but what’s the theory here?
        A) Subsidies for fossil fuels proved to be money well spent, therefore subsidies for renewables will be too.
        B) Subsidies for fossil fuels proved to be a waste of money, therefore subsidies for renewables will be … um … won’t be?
        C) Fair’s fair. Those pigs have had their snouts in the trough long enough; now it’s our turn!

        2) The trouble with that is that $13B for 5.5 billion tonnes of CO2 works out to $2.4 / t_CO2. The externalities of burning fossil fuels are at least a factor of ten greater, so if you’re going to make your argument about them, why even bother with monetary subsidies?

        • 1) A mixture of A & B. It was valuable up to a point… until we realized the great problems it created, perhaps. And it’s clearly valuable to switch to clean energy this century. And, yeah, complaining about renewable energy getting subsidies (and a large amount of money still going to subsidize mature fossil fuels) is just not legit.

          2) not sure what point you’re making here, actually. could you offer that up in another way? 😀

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