In London, Just Stop Oil quotes Sir David King, the former Chief Scientific Advisor to the UK Government in 2021, “What we do over the next three to four years, I believe, is going to determine the future of humanity”. We have allowed the debate about climate change to become complex when all that we really need to do is to stop burning fossil fuels, oil and coal. I am writing this as the UK government approves the Rosebank Field Development Plan, 500 m barrels of oil, and 200 m tons of carbon dioxide.
Last month the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) revealed that, in 2022, 20 of the world’s biggest economies reached a record $1.4tn(£1.1tn). The report found G20 governments last year provided fossil fuels $1tn in subsidies, $322bn in investments by state-owned enterprises and $50bn in loans from public finance institutions. The emissions generated by the burning of fossil fuels are accelerating global warming and Scientists estimate the air pollution from fossil fuels kills between 1 and 10 million people each year. In 2022, the amount of subsidies was more than double the subsidies provided 2019.
Richard Damania, chief economist of a sustainability group at the World Bank and lead author of the study has said: “There is huge potential in subsidy reform… By repurposing wasteful subsidies, we can free up significant sums that could instead be used to address some of the planet’s most pressing challenges.” The IISD found that by setting a higher carbon tax of $25-75 per ton of greenhouse gases, G20 governments could raise an extra $1tn a year.
Reducing and eliminating government subsidies to fossil fuel producers would reduce emissions and enable green energy to compete on a level playing field. Carbon taxes would further reduce the burning of fossil fuels and accelerate the transition to green power.
The G20 member countries account for more than three-quarters of global emissions and gross domestic product. Action by them is fundamental to reducing the rate of greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. In July they failed to reach a consensus on tripling renewable energy by 2020 and urging developed countries to deliver on the goal of jointly mobilising $100bn (£78bn)a year for climate action in developing economies from 2020-25. The Indian power minister, RK Singh, said some countries wanted to use carbon capture instead of a phase-down of fossil fuels but did not name them.
Meanwhile in Nairobi 8th September, the Africa Climate Summit concluded with a call for investment to promote the sustainable use of Africa’s natural assets for the continent’s transition to low-carbon development and contribution to global decarbonization. Climate change impacts “have included prolonged droughts, devastating floods, wild and forest fires, which cause massive humanitarian crisis with detrimental impacts on economies, health, education, peace and security, among other risks, the leaders said.”
“We urge world leaders to rally behind the proposal for a [global] carbon taxation regime including a carbon tax on fossil fuel trade, maritime transport and aviation, that may also be augmented by a global financial transaction tax (FTT)) to provide dedicated affordable and accessible finance for climate-positive investments at scale and ring-fencing of these resources and decision-making from geopolitical and national interests.”
A global carbon tax is needed. It is unlikely to be delivered.