Connie Hedegaard, the outspoken EU Commissioner for Climate Action, has lent her weight to the growing calls for ending fossil fuel subsidies.
Earlier in the week, Oil Change International revealed that fossil fuel subsidies could be as high a $1 trillion.
Oil Change has been working with others NGOs to make phasing out subsidies a key issue at Rio+20. Earlier in the week, a 24-hour “Twitter storm” saw hashtag #endfossilfuelsubsidies rise up to number two in the ranking of trending topics, with it number one in the US.
“We’re averaging a tweet a second” said Jamie Henn of 350.org at the time. On Monday, a petition of over 750,000 signatures calling for an end to fossil fuel subsidies was handed into 10 Downing Street in London. Similar petitions happened around the world.
Now Hedegaard has added her voice to ending subsidies. Writing in the Guardian newspaper she says: “As for state subsidies for fossil fuels, they have no place in today’s world. They must be phased out as the G20 has pledged.”
She added that with the current economic and climate crisis, how smart is it that governments worldwide spend hundreds of billions a year of taxpayers’ money subsidising dirty fuels that exacerbate climate change and air pollution? She argues that “We would do better to spend this money on improving energy efficiency and promoting clean and affordable energy for all.”
Hedegaard added that “We must use the Rio+20 summit to kick off the global transition to a sustainable growth model for the 21st century … Rio cannot afford not to have concrete results. Rio must get it right.”
But Rio+20 looks like it will get it badly wrong. The draft text to be agreed by world leaders has been described as “far too weak.” Even Hedegaard admits that, tweeting that “Nobody in that room adopting the text was happy. That’s how weak it is. And they all knew”.
Craig Bennett, the Director of policy and campaigns at Friends of the Earth called the draft text “a damp squib” that “talks lack the firepower needed to solve the global emergency we’re facing.” WWF called the draft text “pathetic”.
As for ending fossil fuel subsidies some news reports have the final text only reaffirming previous commitments to phase them out if they are “harmful and inefficient”, without setting a firm date. Other news outlets say that the concept of removing subsidies has been removed from the text all together.
One thing is sure, though, is that Rio+20 already looks like a failure.
You could argue that 20 years ago world leaders were only just beginning to realise the scale of the problem facing them. Now, twenty years later they no longer have that excuse. They know the scale of the challenge facing us. They even know what to do. But they do not have the political courage to act.
In fact there are no excuses any more.