Increasing the Momentum of Fossil-Fuel Subsidy Reform: A Roadmap for International Cooperation
65 Pages Posted: 1 Aug 2010
Date Written: June 2010
As fossil-fuel subsidy reform moves higher up countries’ energy and climate change agendas – the G-20 and APEC have recently taken commitments to phase out fossil-fuel subsidies, countries such as Indonesia, India and Iran are attempting to reduce their subsidy burden, and organizations like the OECD, IEA, World Bank and IMF are refocusing on the topic – there remains the question: what role can international fora such as the WTO, UNFCCC, and international collaboration more generally, play?
International collaboration and agreement can provide essential support to national efforts to reform fossil-fuel subsidies. In addition to supplying political legitimacy and peer pressure, it can also offer research and technical assistance, sharing of information and best practice, establishment of rules, financial support and promoting increased accountability.
The WTO (World Trade Organisation), with its Agreement on Subsidies and Countervailing Measures, would seem to be the obvious first choice. However much work needs to be done prior to introducing new negotiations to the WTO – gathering information, building consensus, and in the case of energy subsidies, obtaining a mandate to negotiate disciplines that reach beyond the trade impacts. Immediate action could see improvements to WTO members’ reporting on subsidies, however with the Doha Round seemingly at a stand-still, the outlook for negotiations on fossil-fuel subsidy disciplines can only viably be a longer-term goal.
The good news is there are other opportunities that can and should be taken advantage of in the meantime. Fossil-fuel subsidy reform is one national action that could have significant and multi-faceted impacts for addressing global climate change – driving down emissions and opening investment pathways for renewable energies. The UNFCCC may be struggling to define its post-Kyoto architecture but there is nothing stopping it from recommending specific non-binding measures that developed countries should take, with clear attractions compared to making a whole new agreement. Discussions around developing countries all suggest that their commitments are likely to based around their policies. Whether these are defined as nationally appropriate mitigation actions (NAMAs) or otherwise, subsidy reform seems a perfect fit and could be supported technically or financially by the developed world. The UNFCCC might be moving slowly towards a full agreement but we could envisage quick progress on more specific, voluntary actions, potentially even in the build-up to Cancun this December.
The G-20 and APEC are already leading the way, having taken commitments to phase out and rationalize inefficient fossil-fuel subsidies that encourage wasteful consumption. The G-20 lacks a secretariat for supporting ongoing research and technical assistance, or monitoring progress on the phase out of members’ subsidies, however APEC may be able to fill some of these functions for its members. Country champions are picking up the torch with a newly-formed Friends of Fossil-Fuel Subsidy Reform group, led by New Zealand which includes Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland, with membership from developing countries still to be confirmed. As momentum for national fossil-fuel subsidy reform picks up, countries will look increasingly to the international community for support.
This paper takes a detailed look at the opportunities, strengths and weaknesses of progressing fossil-fuel subsidy reform within the WTO, UNFCCC and under the G-20’s political leadership, and concludes that a collaborative approach between a range of organisations is needed, with country champions driving the process. The paper outlines a roadmap over the next 12 months, 1-3 years and the longer term for increasing international cooperation, and preparing the path to a multilateral agreement on fossil-fuel subsidy reform.
Keywords: fossil fuel subsidies, WTO, UNFCCC, G20
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