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Fossil fuel subsidies at COP19, Warsaw

KuhneIn June of last year, remarkably (for a topic usually the domain of economists, policy wonks and academics) the issue of fossil fuel subsidies and subsidy reform lurched to the forefront of civil society discussions and attention at the UN ‘Rio+20’ Earth Summit, aided by a frenzy of activity on social media platforms, as well as some smart positioning by environmental NGOs. The heat and light created during that conference did not ultimately translate to a particularly strong provision concerning fossil fuel subsidies in the ‘Future We Want’ outcome document.  But my impression is that a certain momentum was created. An issue which had previously been at the periphery of climate change policy and law thinking has begun to move to a place closer to the centre.
I’m about to head over to Warsaw to join the second week of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change annual round of talks – COP19.  It will be interesting to see whether the Rio+20 spike in interest on fossil fuel subsidies is translated into a noticeably higher profile for the issue at the 2013 round of climate talks. The good folk at the Global Subsidies Initiative have done some interesting work on examining the potential for fossil fuel subsidies disciplines to be incorporated into the UNFCCC framework and process. Over the last week or so, the Overseas Development Institute has also put out a report on the current state of play on fossil fuel subsidies which has picked up a bit of attention. The ODI report includes the following (hopeful, it seems to me) observation:

As governments meet this month in Warsaw for the Conference of Parties (CoP) talks, the G20 countries could agree a timeline for fossil fuel subsidy phase-out. Aside from the immediate benefits of reduced carbon emissions, early action on subsidies could boost prospects for a wider climate deal at the key 2015 Climate Change Summit in Paris.

While I am in Warsaw, I’m keen to explore with delegates, NGOs and other participants whether there is real interest (by that, I mean something more than a vague ‘open to the idea’ approach) to seriously embedding the issue of fossil fuel subsidy reform, disciplines and reporting into the UNFCCC process, or whether, as a policy level, this is going to be something continuing to be driven – largely outside of the UNFCC framework – by small groups of like-minded countries, the G20, NGOs, and some IGO’s including UNEP the IEA, OECD & APEC.

Some light might be shed on that issue at a COP19 side event to be hosted by the International Institute for Sustainable Development and New Zealand Government on Tuesday at 6:30pm (Room Gdansk) – ‘Reaping Emissions Reductions from Fossil-Fuel Subsidy Reform: Learning from Success Stories’.  I’m hoping that as well as highlighting success subsidy reform stories from individual countries’ domestic law and policy perspective, the panellists will have some ideas about how to coral the rest of the global community into more sensible arrangements, using international law and policy tools as part of overall approach.

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