Tuesday, 7 May 2013

World Bank President: "End Fossil Fuel Subsidies"

Last June I commented on the lack of joined-up thinking when it comes to fossil fuel subsidies.  World Bank President Jim Yong Kim seems to share this sentiment.

According to the Thompson Reuters news agency, Kim spoke out against fossil fuel subsidies during a U.N. meeting of climate and environment ministers in Bonn, Germany.  As he rightly noted, “They are regressive, negatively impact the environment and act as a barrier to progress on clean technology."

The World Bank has long been a champion of free markets, so perhaps it should not be a surprise when the World Bank's President calls for an end to government subsidies.

What is even more noteworthy, then, about Kim's speech, is that he followed up his criticism of subsidies with a call for more government involvement to price greenhouse gas emissions.  Carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, methane and other GHGs are atmospheric pollutants whose uncontrolled release is causing the planet's average temperature to rise. This in turn is affecting the frequency and intensity of storms, floods, droughts, glacier retreat, the spread of pests and disease and species loss.  For 90% of the planet's population, governments have given a free pass on emissions, by failing to force companies and individuals to incorporate the price of pollution into their everyday decisions.

Kim advocates a change of direction, encouraging governments to adopt one or more carbon pricing mechanisms, "whether this is through a tax on carbon, indirect taxation, regulation or the creation of a carbon market."

President Kim's comments are noteworthy because they come from an institution not known for encouraging governments to meddle in the market.  They bring to mind an observation I and my colleagues at Carbon Clear have made many times before: climate change is that rare global problem that humanity actually has the power to tackle.  We know what causes it, we know what it will take to address it, and we have at our disposal the technological and policy tools to make the transition to a low-carbon future.  We even know how to turn climate change from a challenge to an opportunity.  What we need now is the courage and conviction to act.