Methodology

The Fossil Fuel Subsidy Tracker incorporates estimates of fossil-fuel subsidies and other support measures from three international databases: the OECD Inventory of Support Measures for Fossil Fuels, the IEA Energy subsidies database and the IMF Fossil Fuel Subsidies database. Estimates from the three organisations are based on two different approaches, which provide complementary information. 

The IEA and IMF analyses of energy subsidies compares the end-use prices paid by fuel consumers, with reference prices (such as import-parity prices). The Fossil Fuel Subsidy Tracker picks up IMF “pre-tax” (see note below) for consumption subsidy estimates only (i.e. price gap). The IMF also includes production subsidies for selected countries as well as “post-tax” (see note below) subsidies to fossil fuels. The “post-tax” subsidies consider the undercharging for environmental costs and general consumption taxes and are therefore higher than the ”pre-tax” subsidy estimates. IMF production and ”post-tax” estimates have not been reflected in the Fossil Fuel Subsidy Tracker, as external costs are not commonly reflected in tax expenditure data. (Note: beginning 2021, the IMF started using the terminology “explicit” subsidies to refer to “pre-tax” subsidies and “implicit” subsidies to refer to “post-tax” subsidies.)      

The OECD Inventory essentially covers direct budgetary transfers and tax expenditures that in some way provide a benefit or preference for fossil-fuel production or consumption relative to alternatives. It also covers measures that create enabling conditions for the fossil-fuel sector through the development of private or public services, institutions and infrastructure that may benefit fossil-fuel production or consumption in the long term, and fund activities to address the legacy of past mining or drilling (“general services support”).

The scope of the OECD Inventory is therefore broader than conventional conceptions of “subsidy”. Although the OECD Inventory covers measures that provide support (either absolute or relative) to fossil fuels, it does not attempt to assess the impact on prices or quantities of the measures considered, nor does it pass any judgment as to whether a given measure is justified or not. In that sense, the OECD Inventory casts a wide net that aligns well with its objective of promoting the transparency of public policies. Hence, information precedes analysis.

The estimates presented in the Fossil Fuel Subsidy Tracker may be under-estimates, as several subsidies and broader support measures documented in the OECD Inventory may not be completely quantified or the complete set of fossil fuel support measures of covered countries may not have been exhaustively identified.

Fossil fuels are defined in accordance with the IEA Statistical Manual (2004). Fossil-fuel subsidies are defined based on the Agreement on Subsidies and Countervailing Measures (ASCM) under the World Trade Organization (WTO) (1994). A subsidy shall be deemed to exist: 

  1. “if there is a financial contribution by a government or any public body within the territory of a Member ("government"), i.e. where: 
    1. a government practice involves a direct transfer of funds (e.g. grants, loans, and equity infusion), potential direct transfers of funds or liabilities (e.g. loan guarantees); 
    2. government revenue that is otherwise due is foregone or not collected (e.g. fiscal incentives such as tax credits); 
    3. a government provides goods or services other than general infrastructure, or purchases goods; 
    4. a government makes payments to a funding mechanism, or entrusts or directs a private body to carry out one or more of the type of functions illustrated in (i) to (iii) above which would normally be vested in the government and the practice, in no real sense, differs from practices normally followed by governments. 
  2. Or if there is any form of income or price support in the sense of Article XVI of GATT 1994.
  3. And if a benefit is thereby conferred”. 

The subsidy mechanisms based on this definition include

(i) Direct transfer of government funds;

(ii) Tax expenditure, other revenue foregone, and under-pricing of goods and services;

(iii) Induced transfers (price support); and

(iv) Transfer of risk to government. 

The methodology for reporting SDG 12.c.1 on fossil-fuel subsidies: “Measuring Fossil Fuel Subsidies in the Context of the Sustainable Development Goals” has been developed by UN Environment with the OECD and the IISD.

The methodology adopts the OECD Inventory approach for direct budgetary transfers and tax expenditures, and the IEA and IMF approach for induced transfers.

Due to the complexity and the limited availability of data for the fourth subsidy mechanism, transfer of risk, the methodology recommends excluding this category in the initial stages of the SDG reporting process. As such, no data under this category is included in the Fossil Fuel Subsidy Tracker.

Recognising that reporting and monitoring capacity as well as data availability differ across countries, the methodology recommends a phased approach to move from existing OECD, IEA and IMF global datasets to a process that incorporates national figures as they become available, hence the utility of bringing the three datasets together in one site.

Fossil fuel subsidies and other support measures categories

The fossil-fuel subsidies and other support measures in the Fossil Fuel Subsidy Tracker are categorised by Fuel type, Beneficiaries, and Support mechanism. 

Fuels covered by Fossil Fuel Subsidy Tracker comprise both primary fossil-fuel commodities (e.g. crude oil, natural gas, coal, and peat) and secondary refined or processed products (e.g. diesel fuel, gasoline, kerosene, and coal briquettes), following the IEA’s Statistical Manual. Primary fuels include those fossil fuels that are extracted from unconventional sources, such as oil extracted from bituminous sands, shale-based natural gas, or coal-bed methane. Measures supporting the production or use of biofuels are not included.

  • Coal: including hard coal and briquettes, and peat
  • Natural gas: both liquefied and in the gaseous state
  • Petroleum products: Petroleum oils and oils obtained from bituminous minerals, crude oil as well as secondary refined or processed products (e.g. diesel fuel, gasoline, kerosene).
  • Electricity: electricity for end-user consumption of fossil-fuel origin. Under the OECD and IEA estimates, support under end-use electricity includes measures providing electricity tariffs below cost recovery or annual average-cost pricing for electricity end-users and only includes the fossil-fuel component of the support (i.e. renewables and other non-fossil-fuel sources are excluded). The IMF estimates differ by categorising the under-pricing of electricity under the relevant fossil fuel source of power generation, e.g., under coal or natural gas. Amounts related to cross-border power exchanges are excluded due to the technical difficulties in determining the traded electricity’s ultimate generation origin. Support amounts benefiting fossil fuels as power generation inputs are aggregated under their respective fuel type, i.e. petroleum products, coal or natural gas.
  • Consumer: transfers to consumers of fossil fuels. Consumption of fossil fuels refers to the stage at which fuels are combusted or used as raw materials by various end-use sectors, whether it occurs in motor vehicles, stationary engines, heating equipment or power plants. Consumption encompasses the following activities:
    • the use of fossil fuels in power and heat generation;
    • their use in industrial processes and activities outside of the energy sector;
    • and all other final uses of fossil fuels, whether in the transport sector, the residential sector, or primary industries outside of the energy sector (e.g. agriculture and forestry).
  • Producer: transfers to producers of fossil fuels. Production of fossil fuels encompasses the following activities along the supply chain:
    • exploration and extraction;
    • bulk transportation and storage;
    • and refining and processing.
  • General services: transfers or expenditures that cannot be categorised solely under Consumer or Producer support. These represent the value of policy measures that create enabling conditions for the fossil-fuel sector through the development of private or public services, institutions and infrastructure, regardless of their objectives and immediate impact on fossil-fuel production and or consumption. They include policies where fossil fuels are the main beneficiaries, including payments to fund remediation activities to address the legacy of past fossil-fuel extraction, but exclude any payments to individual producers. These transfers do not directly alter producer receipts or costs, or consumption expenditures, although they may affect production or consumption of fossil fuels in the long term. The OECD Inventory categorises such measures as General Services Support. Examples of measures under this category include (but are not limited to):
    • Government funding for sector-wide R&D in relation to fossil-fuel exploration and transformation.
    • Public support for industry-specific infrastructure development such as the construction of coal or natural-gas terminals, refineries or coal mine railways.
    • Inherited liability payments such as to fund remediation activities to address the legacy of past fossil-fuel extraction or payments to assume occupational health, retirement and accident liabilities for workers and retirees.
    • Debt restructuring by the government to absorb debt obligations of fossil-fuel firms.
  • Direct budgetary transfers: payments made by governments, or bodies acting on behalf of governments, to individual recipients. This includes direct spending, e.g. for specific support programmes, and government ownership (fully or through equity shares) of energy-related enterprises.
  • Tax expenditures: tax concessions that are typically provided through lower rates, exemptions, or rebates of consumption taxes on fossil fuels (mainly value-added taxes and excise taxes) or measures to reduce the cost of the extraction of fossil fuels (including accelerated-depreciation allowances for capital expenditure, investment tax credits, deductions for exploration and development expenses, and preferential capital-gains treatment). Tax expenditures can also take less visible forms such as the special treatment of income from state-owned enterprises, tax relief for income earned on industry sinking funds (e.g. for site remediation), tax exempt bonds, the use of foreign tax credits for what may be considered royalty payments, or preferential tax rates on fuels used as inputs in fossil-fuel production. Tax expenditures are often premised on providing government support to activities or entities deemed to be socially beneficial; or on concerns relating to risk and uncertainty, energy security, capital intensity, high upfront costs, and long project timelines. Various approaches of varying levels of difficulty are used to derive estimates of the cost of tax expenditures. The revenue forgone approach is the most straightforward and the most commonly used in OECD countries (i.e. the difference between the tax revenue raised with and without the tax expenditure, all else being equal). The revenue forgone approach is a static measure. In other words, it does not account for behavioural responses related to the removal of the tax expenditure. Caution is required when interpreting tax expenditure estimates, as relative preferences within a country’s tax system that are measured with reference to a benchmark tax treatment set by that country. The fact that the benchmark tax treatment varies from country to country means that comparing the value of this type of support across countries can be challenging. The fact that a particular country reports higher tax expenditures relating to fossil fuels does not always mean that this country effectively provides a higher level of support. The higher tax expenditures may also be due to factors such as:
    • A higher benchmark tax rate against which tax expenditures are measured;
    • A stricter definition of the benchmark tax system that results in more features being singled out as tax expenditures;
    • A more complete set of tax-expenditure accounts.
    • Greater consumption of the fossil fuel in question. As revenue forgone is usually calculated per physical or energy unit, estimates are sensitive to a country’s fossil-fuel consumption patterns.

    Higher reported tax expenditures for some countries may therefore reflect higher levels of taxation or greater transparency in reporting rather than a higher level of support.

  • Induced transfer: estimated subsidies due to market regulation and price support for lower end-user price relative to the full cost of supply. Also known as consumer price support, or the “price-gap” approach, as it can also be applied to measure subsidies to producers when domestic prices are higher than external reference prices. It refers to a change in prices received by producers and paid by domestic consumers as a consequence of government interventions, such as through
    • direct price regulation,
    • pricing formulas,
    • border controls or taxes, and
    • domestic purchase or supply mandates.

    The difference between the end-use price and the reference price (that which would prevail in a competitive market, reflecting the full cost of supply) amounts to the price gap or induced transfer. For countries that import a given product, consumer subsidy estimates derived through the measurement of price gaps are explicit. That is, they represent net expenditures resulting from the domestic sale of imported energy at lower, regulated prices. In contrast, for countries that export a given product – and therefore do not pay world prices – subsidy estimates are implicit and have no direct budgetary impact. Rather, they represent the opportunity cost of pricing domestic energy below market levels. For countries that produce a portion of their fossil-fuel consumption themselves and import the remainder, the estimates represent a combination of opportunity costs and direct government expenditures.

The Fossil Fuel Subsidy Tracker uses data from three sources: the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the International Energy Agency (IEA) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The sub-sections above in this “Methodology” section provide detailed information on the different but complementary approaches used by these organisations to estimate support for fossil fuels.

The OECD Inventory of Support Measures for Fossil Fuels documents over 1 400 national and sub-national government budgetary transfers and tax expenditures providing preferential benefit to the production and consumption of fossil fuels in 50 OECD, G20 and European Union (EU) Eastern Partnership (EaP) countries. As mentioned above, the Inventory does not attempt to assess the impact on prices or quantities of the fossil-fuel support measures considered, nor does it pass any judgment as to whether a given measure is justified or not.

The IEA provides “price-gap” estimates for 42 economies. In countries where OECD and IEA country coverage overlap (e.g. Argentina, Azerbaijan, People’s Republic of China, Colombia, Indonesia, India, Korea, Mexico, Russia Federation, South Africa and Ukraine), the OECD and the IEA have produced a joint estimate. The global map presented in the “Home” page includes this joint OECD-IEA estimate. However, the individual “Country Data” section of the website presents only OECD-sourced data. For countries not covered by either the OECD or the IEA, data is complemented with IMF estimates.

In the joint OECD-IEA estimates, a rule-of-thumb approach is used to combine the IEA estimates of consumer price support with OECD Inventory estimates for these overlapping countries. Since the IEA quantifies the price transfers resulting from underpricing fossil fuels or from selling products at prices lower than international prices, individual support measures in the OECD Inventory are sorted according to whether they lower the domestic price and then used to estimate an equivalent price transfer estimate. The rule of thumb then instructs to choose the estimates for which the total of the last six-year period of available data is the larger of the two. This rule of thumb addresses the potential discrepancies between the two estimates that can stem from budgetary reporting rules, measurement errors, or time lags in the price pass-through, but means that the joint OECD-IEA estimates for overlapping countries cannot be broken down to the level of granularity displayed in the “Country Data” section of the website (OECD, 2018). This is why only OECD-sourced data is displayed for those countries in the individual “Country Data” section of the website. Global aggregates derived from the individual “Country Data” section may therefore differ from total aggregated estimate published on the home page. Given this limitation, users should use data from the “Home” page to obtain an estimate at the global level, and data from the ”Country Data” page to obtain estimates for individual countries.

Taken together, both the OECD and IEA estimates cover 81 economies. The remaining countries not covered by the OECD and IEA estimates are obtained from the IMF, which is used by the Fossil Fuel Subsidy Tracker as source for 111 countries out of the 192 countries covered in the IMF’s fossil fuel subsidy database.

Gross Domestic Product data series for OECD and G20 economies are sourced from the OECD National Accounts Statistics database, complemented and expanded with the OECD Economic OutlookWorld Bank World Development IndicatorsIEA World Indicators and the IMF World Economic Outlook database. Data series are available in the OECD Green Growth Indicators database. The share of FFS per unit of GDP is calculated as the ratio of total subsidies over GDP, both expressed in nominal USD.

National population data are sourced from the UN World population prospects database complemented and expanded with the World Bank World Development Indicators. Data series are available in the OECD Green Growth Indicators database. Per capita figures are expressed in nominal USD of country total subsidies per inhabitant.