How to rein in fossil fuel subsidies? Towards a New WTO Regime

Simon Happersberger, Eleanor Mateo, Selcukhan Ünekbas


Fossil fuel subsidies have negative consequences on the climate change, public budgets and the transition to an environmentally friendly economy. Nevertheless, governments do not keep up with their commitments to phase out fossil fuel subsidies but misallocate again COVID-19 recovery funds in fossil fuel subsidies. This article provides an analysis of the current obstacles for phasing out fossil fuel subsidies and the potential of the WTO to advance a reform on fossil fuel subsidies. It argues that the WTO can contribute to a fossil fuel subsidies reform by its technical expertise in regulating subsidies, by its broad membership and by its institutional setting. Under the current framework of the ASCM, WTO member can use existing mechanisms, such as the TPRM, to increase transparency in the short term and facilitate discussions on the scope of subsidies while mitigating impacts on vulnerable groups or sectors. This would provide the ground for governments to work towards a new and ambitious agreement to stop producer fossil fuels subsidies and phase out consumer fossil fuels subsidies in the mid-to-long-term. However, the phase out of consumer subsidies needs to be carefully designed and embedded, to avoid unintended consequences on energy access and vulnerable households.

Keywords: Fossil Fuel Subsidies Reform, World Trade Organization