G20 leaders and laggards take uneven steps towards ending fossil fuel subsidies

Press release - 27 June, 2010
Toronto -- Some G20 leaders have taken first steps towards phasing out fossil fuel subsidies, but collectively, their actions fail to address the urgent need to stop catastrophic climate change.

"As BP’s oil disaster continues to wreak havoc in the Gulf of Mexico, the G20's first step to reduce fossil fuel subsidies is the right move to make,” said Phil Radford, Executive Director of Greenpeace US. “But unfortunately in Toronto, there has been a lack of visionary leadership that would shift those resources into developing a new clean energy economy."

In the final communiqué just released, the G20 has taken uneven steps that reaffirm commitments made at last year’s Pittsburgh summit to implement “country specific” strategies on fossil fuel phase outs.

Some nations deserve more credit than others. Of all the G20 nations, the Obama Administration offered up the most robust plan for ending subsidies for big oil and coal, though the plan represents only a fraction of the total subsidies and still requires Congressional approval.

At the other end of the spectrum, nations like Australia and Canada have failed to take their commitments seriously. In appendices to the communiqué, language suggests that commitments to phase out fossil fuel subsidies are “voluntary and member-specific,” something Canada and Australia have been aggressively pushing for.

“Laggards like Australia and the G20 host nation Canada are doing everything in their power to protect the dirty fossil fuel industries their governments rely on,” added Radford. “Canada particularly has proven to be completely out of touch with the urgent need to address climate change and the risks of exploiting the tar sands for short-term profit.”

However the joint report commissioned in Pittsburgh by the G20 did not quantify all of the fossil fuel subsidies from the developed world. Steve Kretzmann, Director of Oil Change International, addressed this significant oversight:

"Important progress was made today in ending fossil fuel subsidies. But, the big missing piece is adding up how much the developed world funds big oil and coal. The next meaningful step has to be revealing the extent to which the G20 governments fund major polluters like BP on an annual basis and ending this corporate welfare."

On climate financing, the G20 summit in Toronto suffered from a complete lack of vision. Again, while the commitment to phase out portions of the $100 billion a year in developed G20 nation hand outs to the fossil fuel industry like BP, the same $100 billion is what could be used to make good on the promise of climate finance in the Copenhagen Accord.

“The G20 has squandered a major opportunity to use the funds they plan to divert away from the fossil fuel industry to actually help our climate,” added Kretzmann. “If the G20’s message this year was to promote fiscal responsibility, wouldn’t using the $100 billion they hope save annually be better spent funding renewable energy projects be the most responsible thing to do?”

Looking ahead to the second half of the G20 summit in South Korea, Greenpeace demands that the richest nations reveal the extent of their subsidies to the fossil fuel industry, as well as reporting on the significant steps they have taken to move to a low carbon economy.

Editors note:

(1) The Checklist and briefings for the Summits can be found at Greenpeace’s G8/G20 homepage:

(2) Oil Change International’s subsidy briefing can be found here: