Sunday, June 17, 2012
Growing public pressure is pushing governments to reduce fossil fuel subsidies. Activists are mobilising public opinion using social media.
From a mass of social media platforms, Twitter and Facebook have emerged as dominant players. Using them, climate communicators are finding fresh ways to spread messages and organise action. Watch Twitter on 18 June for the Twitterstorm campaign that calls for the Rio Earth Summit to address the problem of fossil fuel subsidies.
The total global amount of fossil fuel subsidies provided in 2012 is likely to be at least $775 billion, according to OilChange International. These subsidies have the effect of encouraging fossil fuel consumption and increasing greenhouse gas emissions. Their impact is so big that the IEA's Fatih Birol says ending fossil fuel subsidies could provide half the answer to solving climate change.
Wealthy OECD countries are not the worst offenders, instead Iran, Saudi Arabia and Russia have the highest subsidies, as this Guardian graph illustrates.
Countries with fossil fuel reserves, like Iran and Saudi Arabia, use subsidies as a way to spread the wealth by making fuel and fertiliser cheaper. However analysis has shown that little of the subsidy reaches the poorest people, and that there are more efficient ways to spread the wealth.
Poor countries like India have programs that make kerosine, the common cooking fuel, affordable for their poorest citizens. To remove the kerosine subsidy, these countries will need assistance from wealthy countries so their poorest citizens can continue to buy enough kerosine to cook every day.
The worst effect of fossil fuel subsidies is to discourage the uptake of renewables because it is hard for clean energy to compete against artificially cheap fossil fuel.
Organisations like 350.0rg are using Rio's Earth Summit to advocate for wealthy countries to remove their own subsidies and to give assistance to poor countries so they can reduce theirs.
You can add your voice to campaign petitions at 350.org, or Earthday Network. And you can join the Twitterstorm planned for 18 June 2012 by following #endfossilfuelsubsidies.
It's a storm caused by fossil fuel emissions, but it's a good one.
UPDATE 20 June 2012: The Twitter campaign took the hash tag #endfossilfuelsubsidies to No. 2 in the ranking of globally trending topics and No. 1 in the US, and succeeded in mobilising action from tens of thousands of people worldwide.
The Twitterstorm was one element in a suite of related activities – petitions signed by more than 1 million people, banners, screen projections in major cities, and a panel discussion in Rio before the conference.
Among the cacophony of messages at the Rio+20 Earth Conference, the Twitterstorm may have helped to draw attention to fossil fuel subsidies. Early drafts of the Rio text didn't mention oil, coal or gas subsidies at all, and the final draft made only a passing reference. In the end, the impact of this Twitterstorm and the wider campaign will be measured by how quickly fossil fuel subsidies are unravelled over coming years.
Image: Campaign agains climate change