Axe fossil-fuel handouts, says Browne  

Posted by Big Gav

The FT has an interesting article on remarks by ex-BP chief Browne, calling for an end to fossil fuel subsidies and redirecting them towards clean energy alternatives - Axe fossil-fuel handouts, says Browne.

Subsidies to fossil-fuel companies must be “dismantled”, says the former chief of BP, who has given warning of a “shake-out” among green energy companies that are struggling to survive.

Globally, about $200bn (£124bn) a year is spent on subsidies to the fossil-fuel energy industry – for example in the form of tax breaks on development. But only about $33bn is spent on subsidies to renewable and nuclear energy, says Lord Browne.

To move to a low-carbon economy requires a “level playing field” among energy companies, which would require the “dismantling” of subsidies to fossil fuels and a transfer to renewables and emerging technologies such as carbon capture and storage.

In his first face-to-face interview since leaving BP last year, Lord Browne said investment in the booming market for renewable energy had produced “a great bubbling” of new developments. But there would be a shake-out.

It was “inevitable that as the finance markets are closed, the debt markets are closed, that will fall off”, he said. “There has been a tremendous amount of activity. There might have been too much . . . It’s producing a lot of casualties. Maybe some of the more unlikely-to-succeed things will just be shut down as a result of tougher times.”

Lord Browne said fossil-fuel companies were facing upheaval as the energy mix was changing for the first time in three decades.

This would result in more demand for renewables and other low-carbon forms of energy, while greater energy efficiency spelt decline in some traditionally strong oil markets. US gasoline demand may already be in long-term decline, he said, because the car fleet was becoming more efficient.

Oil companies risked being caught out – like some telecommunications companies when first confronted by mobile technology. “When mobile phones came in, I don’t think it was the fixed-line operators who were fastest and first to move to mobiles,” he said.

Lord Browne was speaking to the Financial Times ahead of a meeting of European energy experts in London on Monday at the Royal Academy of Engineering, of which he is president. At the gathering, he will call for world leaders urgently to pursue a global deal on climate change despite the economic downturn.

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