Government subsidies for fossil fuels over the last three decades have been far larger than anyone previously thought, according to a new study published by the University of Calgary's School of Public Policy in March.
A fossil fuel subsidy is any government policy that lowers the cost of fossil fuel production, raises prices received by producers, or lowers prices paid by consumers: they can consist of tax breaks and direct funding for fossil fuel companies. But subsidies can also consist of loans, price controls, or giveaways in the form of land or water at below market-rates, and many other actions.
They have been so high across the world, finds Dr. Radek Stefanski—an economist at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland— that they are nearly four and a half times higher than previously believed.
So what's the damage? It's pretty colossal. For the last year in his model, 2010, Stefanski found that the total global direct and indirect financial costs of all fossil fuel subsidies was $1.82 trillion, or 3.8 percent of global GDP. He also found that the subsidies meant much higher carbon emissions released into our atmosphere.
Compare that to the International Energy Agency (IEA) figure for the same year. In its 2011 World Energy Outlook, the IEA calculated total worldwide fossil fuel subsidies for 2010 to be $409 billion, less than a quarter of Stefanski's figure of nearly two trillion dollars.
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