Oxfam slams fossil fuel subsidies, tells rich nations to help poor

by Chris Arsenault | @chrisarsenaul | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Friday, 13 November 2015 06:00 GMT

A worker of Petate water reservoir works in a field in Consolacion del Sur, Pinar del Rio province August 18, 2015. REUTERS/Enrique de la Osa

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Wealthy nations spend over $450 billion a year on tax breaks, subsidies and other support for fossil fuel industry

By Chris Arsenault

TORONTO, Nov 13 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Rich nations should take advantage of low oil prices to cut fossil fuel subsidies and channel some of the savings into climate change support for the world's poorest, the aid agency Oxfam said on Friday.

Wealthy nations spend more than $450 billion a year on tax breaks, subsidies and other support for the fossil fuel industry, the charity reported ahead of a G20 summit in Antalya, Turkey on Nov. 15-16.

Last year, by contrast, rich countries spent about $5 billion helping poor nations adapt to climate change, it said.

"Fossil fuel subsidies are irrational and inefficient: the reason for them is political," Tim Gore, Oxfam's head of climate change research, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

"Low oil prices create a window for political consensus for getting this (subsidy removal) done."

Crude oil prices have fallen by roughly half since August 2014 to less than $50 per barrel.

Now that motorists are paying less to drive their cars and homeowners face lower heating bills, politicians should reduce subsidies while oil is comparatively cheap to reduce the potential burden on consumers, Gore said.

"There is no excuse for the richest countries to continue to subsidize the fossil fuel industries, we are calling on them to cut those and channel the money into (climate) adaptation," he said.

Developing nations will need to spend about $150 billion annually by 2030 adapting to the impacts of climate change, according to the United Nations Environment Program.

Droughts, more intense storms and heatwaves are some of the climate change-related problems hitting poor nations with particular ferocity.

Money channelled into climate adaptation rather than fossil fuel subsidies should be spent improving early warning systems for extreme weather, helping poor farmers buy weather-indexed crop insurance, and researching seeds that can better cope with droughts, Gore said.

The United States spent $400 million on climate change adaptation grants for poor countries last year - and $20.5 billion on direct subsidies to fossil fuel producers, Oxfam said.

Australia's direct subsidies to fossil fuel producers were $5 billion - 71 times more than it spent on climate change adaptation for the world's poor, the report said.

The G20 biggest economies are meeting ahead of major climate change talks in Paris starting on Nov. 30 where world leaders will try to agree a new plan to combat global warming.

(Reporting By Chris Arsenault, editing by Tim Pearce. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit www.trust.org)

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