Weaponizing the Numbers

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A Socialist Project e-bulletin ... No. 2035 ... March 29, 2020
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Weaponizing the Numbers:
The Hidden Agenda Behind Fossil-Fuel Subsidy Reform

Sean Sweeney

Among progressives concerned about climate change, few issues provoke as much anger as the knowledge that governments continue to subsidize fossil fuels. According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), in 2017 these subsidies totaled $5.2-trillion annually.

Don’t governments realize that fossil fuels are cooking the planet? The scientific community says we are in a desperate race against time, but the coal, oil, and gas companies apparently still have their noses deeply in the public trough.

Most policy elites think fossil fuel subsidies should go. A decade ago, the Group of Twenty (G20) leaders committed to "rationalize and phase out" government support for coal, oil, and gas, a decision supported by major institutions like the IMF and the World Trade Organization (WTO). At a summit in May 2019, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said "taxpayers’ money" was being used "to boost hurricanes, to spread droughts, to melt glaciers, to bleach corals. In one word -- to destroy the world."

These are fighting... words, but there is good reason to be wary of the global elite’s call for subsidy reform. This call is framed in ways that seek to legitimize and universalize neoliberal approaches to energy transition. Activists may think, "So what? If it gets rid of subsidies, what’s the problem?" But there is a real risk that the consolidation of neoliberal policy will produce outcomes that are considerably worse than the outcomes produced by fossil fuel subsidies.

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