Rio+20 is atwitter about fossil-fuel subsidies. The high costs of tax breaks and incentives for oil, gas, coal, and other fossil-fuel companies are driving the discussion at numerous panels at the Earth Summit.
It's not just environmentalists who think world leaders should end fossil-fuel subsidies, which total nearly $1 trillion globally each year. Humanitarian groups such as Christian Aid and CARE, which advocate for solutions to world poverty, point out that it's the poor who bear the brunt of pollution and climate-change disasters tied to fossil fuels (even though they use the least amount of fossil fuels). Both groups were part of a panel discussion on fossil-fuel subsidies here on Monday.
Meanwhile, the rest of the world beyond Rio is getting involved, too. A "Twitter storm" raged on the Internet as hundreds of thousands of people around the world -- including EU commissioner for climate action Connie Hedegaard and celebrities such as NRDC trustee Robert Redford -- flooded the Web with #EndFossilFuelSubsidies tweets. At one point Redford's blog on fossil-fuel subsidies was the most tweeted item on Twitter. In all, an estimated 100,000 tweets were sent -- or an average of more than one per second over a 24-hour period.
As a new report NRDC and other groups released at Rio+20 shows, ending fossil-fuel subsides is about more than just (a whole lot of) money. According to the report, ending fossil-fuel subsidies would lead to a 6-percent reduction of global carbon-dioxide emissions by 2020 and reduce global energy demand by 5 percent.
That means cleaner air and water and healthier children. It means new jobs from renewable-energy companies, which would suddenly have a more level playing field against big oil companies. And it means better national security, because we wouldn't have to rely on fuel from countries that hate our way of life and defend shipping lines and oil rigs in far-flung parts of the world.
Unfortunately, it seems that among the few people who aren't talking enough about ending fossil-fuel subsidies are the government negotiators here. World leaders are expected to being arriving in Rio later this week. Hopefully by then, negotiators will get the message on fossil-fuel subsidies.