Why have governments been so slow to tackle subsidies for fossil fuels?


Despite much noise and lobbying, fossil fuel subsidies continue to increase at a significant rate. Why?

This is the question we set out to answer in our newly published study From Fossil Fuel Subsidies to an Effective Transition.

Based on extensive research with experts and policy-makers, we compared the approach to fossil fuel subsidies in Germany and the UK and what our findings mean for making an effective transition to clean energy.

Our findings suggest that, though there is little doubt that the climate movement has been successful in raising climate change up the political agenda. In both the UK and Germany (and likely in other countries) the challenges lie in:

  • Navigating the practical, on the ground,
  • Country-by-country implementation given the political realities and the different
  • political imperatives, practicalities, trade-offs and compromises necessary in .different countries.
  • Improving and maintaining public support for climate-friendly action given other, more immediate and more acutely felt voter concerns as well as voter resistance to the practical implementation of some climate policies.
  • Making sure that environmental issues are not approached through the narrow lens of ‘environmentalism’- but through an understanding of their interaction with multiple other policy areas.

In particular, much of what is labelled as ‘fossil fuel subsidies’ is not seen as such by policy-makers. They are seen as essential support for specific disadvantaged groups or as stimulus for economic development.

The opportunity today does not lie in focusing on fossil fuels and their subsidies but rather in finding practical and politically viable pathways to achieving a smooth transition while fulfilling key policy objectives in the following order of priority:

  • ‘Keep the lights on’ (supply, distribution, energy security).
  • Protect vulnerable groups and industries.
  • Maintain broad public support.
  • Do the above in as an environmentally friendly way as possible.

The current energy crisis offers opportunities for accelerated transition and a cleantech industrial revolution over the medium term.

Because Priority 1 above cannot be achieved while countries remain dependent on global markets for fossil fuels controlled by petro-states not necessarily friendly to the West.

CONTACT US if you would like to discuss the results of this study further.

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Radix is the radical centre think tank. We welcome all contributions which promote system change, challenge established notions and re-imagine our societies. The views expressed here are those of the individual contributor and not necessarily shared by Radix.

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