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John Kerry: Fossil Fuel Subsidies Are the ‘Definition of Insanity’

John Kerry, the U.S. special envoy for climate change, on Friday described fossil fuel subsidies as the “definition of insanity,” denouncing measures taken by governments that artificially lower the price of coal, oil or gas.

Speaking at the United Nations climate summit, where negotiators for nearly 200 nations are trying to seek agreement on a deal that averts the worst impacts of climate change, Mr. Kerry called for rapidly phasing out the subsidies. But he defended new language in the latest draft of an agreement that appears to have watered down a push to curb fossil fuels.

The newest version, released early Friday after negotiators haggled into the predawn hours, calls on countries to accelerate “the phaseout of unabated coal power and of inefficient subsidies for fossil fuels.” The addition of the words “unabated” and “inefficient” was seen by some environmental groups as a loophole that would allow subsidies to continue.

But Mr. Kerry argued that the wording “must stay” in the final agreement because commercial technology to capture and store carbon dioxide emissions could be developed in the future. He said that “knowing what the evidence is” about how sharply global emissions needed to be cut, countries cannot rule out the use of new technologies.

But he spoke forcefully about ending fossil fuel subsidies broadly. The U.N. Development Program recently calculated that the world spends $423 billion each year to subsidize oil, gas and coal, about four times the amount needed to help poor countries address climate change.

“That’s a definition of insanity,” Mr. Kerry said, adding that underwriting oil, gas and coal allows governments “to feed the problem we’re here to cure. It doesn’t make sense.”

Officials from other countries argued that the words “unabated” and “inefficient” should be removed from the agreement.

“We need clear language on the need to eliminate all fossil fuel subsidies, not only the inefficient ones, and to accelerate the phaseout of coal power,” said Andrea Meza, Costa Rica’s environment minister. Tina Stege, the climate envoy for the Marshall Islands, a South Pacific nation threatened by rising sea levels, said, “Fossil fuel subsidies are paying for our own destruction.”

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