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Dec 152009

By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

Aiming to help put the Copenhagen climate talks on a track toward success, 1 Sky has called for President Obama to tap fossil fuel subsidies to fund developing nations.

“Outrageously, the U.S. spends more than $10 billion of taxpayer money per year on subsidies to fossil fuel companies. Meanwhile, the climate talks are on the brink of falling apart because developing countries can’t afford to green their economies without financial help. This is a big deal here in Copenhagen — so big that the global climate community has given the U.S. an “award” for undermining progress during the talks,” says Gillian Caldwell, campaign director of 1 Sky, a collaboration of groups wanting climate change action. (See 1 Sky allies.)

“The solution is obvious: we must stop subsidizing big polluters and use that money to help developing countries transition to a clean energy economy.”

This sort of idea has been floated before, but seems not to stay on the surface, perhaps because America doesn’t typically pull the plug on subsidies to anyone. In the land of the entitled, that’s nearly verboten.

But it does have a certain eloquence and symmetry in this situation. Not only would this be taking money from polluters to address pollution; pulling subsidies from say, Exxon, to help fund economic development and life-saving technologies in poor nations, has an appealing Robin Hood quality.

The climate action campaign, announced on Tuesday, asks people to tell President Obama and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner that they would support shifting subsidies from “big polluters” to help developing nations fight climate change (and ultimately, perhaps, help all the 100+ nations at Copenhagen reach an agreement.)

“This isn’t rocket science,” Caldwell said, in a news release. “In fact, thanks to Obama, the leaders of the G20 countries committed this fall to phasing out their fossil fuel subsides — and insiders say Obama has been weighing whether to use that money for climate finance.”

Why developing nations? First, they are struggling with the effects of climate change already, and need money for mitigation. They also need financial help to develop in a green way, so they don’t add to their own carbon emissions, and so their natural resources can be preserved, instead of being exhausted as the default path to economic success. Finally, without help, they simply won’t sign a binding climate agreement at Copenhagen.

Why fossil fuel subsidies? Because coal-fired electricity plants are the biggest single contributor to greenhouse gases, responsible for some 40 percent of global carbon emissions. Oil products, including gasoline, contribute to carbon pollution released by cars, trucks, ships and industry and account for much of the remainder of the pollution degrading the atmosphere. Deforestation, agricultural activities also contribute to greenhouse gases.

That’s about as simple as it gets. (We’ve skipped the background¬† paragraph about how climate change will bring floods, melting ice and all that — we’ll consider that you’ve heard that already.).

And so 1 Sky’s call is simple. Take those oil subsidies and put them to work against climate change. Will that raise our electric rates? Let’s look to the U.S. banks for instruction here. Did they manage to eek out giant bonuses for the execs despite their imminent collapse? Or let’s ask ourselves, what U.S. company (starts with an “E”) made $45 billion in profits last year?

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