Cheap Gas Is Costing The Planet

Fossil fuel subsidies continue to rise:

In 2009, G20 leaders agreed to phase out fossil fuel subsidies by 2020. But it’s clear that most countries are going in the opposite direction, especially the U.S. The government provided $2.6 billion in subsidies for exploration in 2009, which nearly doubled to $5.1 billion by 2013, thanks to a boom in domestic oil and gas production. That means American drilling and investment tax breaks outrank subsidies in Australia, Russia, and Chinacountries not generally known for their aggressiveness on climate change. And yet, President Barack Obama has adopted climate change as a part of his agenda and hopes to convince the rest of the world to do the same.

In fact, according to the International Energy Agency’s World Energy Outlook, released today, governments worldwide spend a mind-boggling $550 billion on fossil fuel subsidies each year. As Chris Mooney notes, that’s four times the amount of subsidies directed toward renewables:

[That] partly explains why despite an overall greening of world energy patterns in the next 25 years, the IEA says we are going to miss climate goals and end up with quite a lot of warming (barring a very significant course correction). The agency cites “the failure to transform the energy system quickly enough to stem the rise in energy-related CO2 emissions (which grow by one-fifth to 2040) and put the world on a path consistent with a long-term global temperature increase of 2°C.” (It was not immediately clear how much the just announced U.S.-China deal to jointly reduce greenhouse gas emissions changes this picture.)

We have some 1000 gigatonnes of carbon left to emit to the atmosphere before locking in a dangerous amount of warming above 2 degrees, and on the current course we’ll use it all up by 2040, says the IEA. In order to stop that, we’ll need four times the current investment in renewable energy — an increase up to $ 1.5 trillion annually around the world

David Roberts shakes his head:

It’s a little crazy. As the Carbon Tracker Initiative has shown in some detail, if the world is to have a chance of limiting temperature rise to 2C, 60 to 80 percent of current fossil fuel reserves have to stay in the ground. That means companies and countries with fossil fuel assets face an enormous potential devaluation, a “carbon bubble.” Exploration for new fossil fuels at this point is just stockpiling stranded assets, at great cost, with money that could far more profitably be spent accelerating the energy transition. Or maybe, as this kind of insane-but-routine set of facts demonstrates, the world won’t get serious about climate change. Then stranded assets could be the least of our problems.