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Lowering fossil fuel prices may not only heat the planet, but may not be helping the poor as intendedUN Environment Report Favors Change in Economic Policy Toward Fossil Fuels

Scrapping fossil fuel subsidies could play an important role in cutting greenhouse gases while giving a small but not insignificant boost to the global economy a new report by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) says.

The report challenges the widely held view that such subsidies assist the poor arguing that many of these price support systems benefit the wealthier sections of society rather than those on low incomes.

They are also diverting national funds from more creative forms of pro-poor polices and initiatives that are likely to have a far greater impact on the lives and livelihoods of the worse-off sectors of society.

Globally around $300 billion or 0.7 per cent of global GDP is being spent on energy subsidies annually.

The lion's share is being used to artificially lower or reduce the real price of fuels like oil, coal and gas or electricity generated from such fossil fuels.

Cancelling these subsidies might reduce greenhouse gas emissions by as much as six per cent a year while contributing 0.1 per cent to global GDP.

The report acknowledges that some subsidies or mechanisms, whether in the form of tax breaks, financial incentives or other market instruments can generate social, economic and environmental benefits.

A case in point are feed-in tariffs that have kick-started a renewable energy revolution in countries such as Germany and Spain.

The report also accepts that there may be cases where some subsidies can, if well- devised and time-limited meet important social and environmental goals.

For example ones to encourage a switch from dirty, health-hazardous or environmentally harmful fuels such a charcoal.

The report also cites the case of Chile where well devised subsidies have increased rural electrification from around 50 per cent to over 90 per cent of the population over 12 years.

But the report argues that many seemingly well intentioned subsidies rarely make economic sense and rarely address poverty. The report therefore challenges the widely-held myth that scrapping fossil fuel supports would hit the poor.

The report cites the example of Liquid Petroleum Gas subsidies in India where $1.7 billion was spent in the first half of the current financial year on trying to get the fuel into poor households. "LPG subsidies are mainly benefiting higher-income households"¦despite the ineffectiveness of the subsidy the programme is being extended until 2010,"says the study.

Indeed the report concludes that in many developing countries the real beneficiaries of such subsidies are neither the poor nor the environment but well off households; equipment manufacturers and the producers of the fuels.

Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director, said: "In the final analysis many fossil fuel subsidies are introduced for political reasons but are simply propping up and perpetuating inefficiencies in the global economy - they are thus part of the market failure that is climate change."

"There are now less than 500 days before the crucial climate change convention meeting in Copenhagen in late 2009. Governments should urgently review their energy subsidies and begin phasing out the harmful ones that contribute to the wasteful use of finite resources and delay the introduction of renewables or more efficient forms of generation while creating disincentives and barriers to public transport up to energy saving appliances," he added.

The new UNEP report — Reforming Energy Subsidies: Opportunities to Contribute to the Climate Change Agenda-was released today at a meeting in Accra, Ghana of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

Here governments have gathered to continue negotiations under the Bali Road Map towards a conclusive and far reaching new climate deal by Copenhagen 2009.

See original news item: Environmental News Network, Aug-29-2008  
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Member: TheTeam (PlanetThoughts Team) The volunteers of PlanetThoughts.org are happy to give you their best selection of news, opinion, reviews, stories, quotes, tips, and more. We hope you enjoy the reading... and thinking. Thanks!

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