A fossil-fuel subsidy is a government intervention that provides a benefit or preference for fossil-fuel production or consumption relative to alternatives. Among others, this can take the form of a direct transfer of funds, a preferential tax treatment or price support to lower fuel prices below market price.
For the purposes of the Fossil Fuel Subsidy Tracker and consistent with inclusion of OECD, IEA and IMF data, fossil-fuel subsidies and other support measures encompass direct budgetary transfers and tax expenditures that provide a benefit or preference for fossil-fuel production or consumption, along with induced transfers (price support), adopting the OECD Inventory approach for direct budgetary transfers and tax expenditures, and the IEA and IMF approach for induced transfers (see Methodology section).
The combustion of fossil fuels in power plants, vehicles, machinery, and dwellings continues to be a leading contributor to global human-induced greenhouse-gas emissions. Although many governments have already taken steps to reduce the carbon intensity of their economies, some policies remain in place that encourage more production and use of fossil fuels than would otherwise be the case. Fossil-fuel subsidies are one such policy.
Not only do fossil-fuel subsidies undermine global efforts to mitigate climate change, but they also aggravate local pollution problems, causing further damage to human health and the environment. They represent a considerable strain on public budgets as well, draining scarce fiscal resources that could be put to better use, such as strategic investment in the education, skills, and physical infrastructure that people value most in the 21st century. Lastly, fossil-fuel subsidies distort the costs and prices that inform the decisions of many producers, investors, and consumers, thereby perpetuating older technologies and carbon-intensive modes of production.
Governments have committed to phasing out inefficient fossil-fuel subsidies in the context of the G20, G7 and APEC forums, and SDG 12 “Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns” incorporates the target to “rationalise inefficient fossil-fuel subsidies that encourage wasteful consumption by removing market distortions” (Target 12.c).
Without understanding the magnitude of fossil-fuel subsidies, it is hard to understand their full impact: the degree to which they strain government budgets, distort energy markets, and cause environmental harm, including by working against efforts to curb climate change. The importance of measuring fossil-fuel subsidies has been recognised in the SDG process with a dedicated indicator (12.c.1—“Amount of fossil-fuel subsidies per unit of GDP (production and consumption)”).
Reporting against a global indicator of fossil-fuel subsidies will, for the first time, provide a more comprehensive, government-led global picture that encompasses both consumer and producer subsidies, to complement existing tracking efforts of international organisations. It will allow researchers and governments to track national and global progress and serve as an important tool for policy-making. However, country reporting is likely to take some time to get up and running and there will be an ongoing role for international data to enhance comparability of country-led reporting.
The Fossil Fuel Subsidy Tracker brings together existing international estimates of support for fossil fuels, to help bridge the reporting gap. Comprehensive information on support for fossil-fuel production and consumption is also needed to track progress against government commitments to phase out “inefficient fossil-fuel subsidies” in the context of the G20, G7 and APEC forums.
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