It’s a numbers game – so let’s start playing

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It’s a numbers game – so let’s start playing

What an opener.

Not the senior politicians welcoming us to Vienna. Not the political leaders committing their countries and regions to building wind capacity and tackling grid issues. Not even the excellent Director General of the International Renewable Energy Agency who put forward a passionate case for renewables that stirred the crowd. It actually fell to an economist to light the blue touch paper of EWEA 2013.

And what an economist he was. The Chief Economist of the International Energy Agency.  A progressive agency and one that’s increasingly breaking from the past to side with renewables.

Thundering on to the stage, he proclaimed fossil fuel subsidies “public enemy number one”. He proclaimed that global fossil fuel subsidies topped half a TRILLION US dollars in 2011. Meanwhile, global renewables was subsidised to the tune of US$88 billion.

I was amazed at the discrepancy. Especially when the fossil fuel lobby and its rather compliant friends in the media rabidly attack renewables as being subsidy-dependent and expensive. Take a look in the mirror!

Every 15 minutes or so throughout the day I checked Google News. Just waiting for the news to hit the mainstream. I’m still waiting.

Sure, the EWEA Show Daily covered it. A few of the renewables titles gave it the treatment it deserved. But nothing else. No wires, no nationals, no business media. The story exists only in a pro-renewables vacuum.

Disappointed, I voiced my concerns to, well, everyone I met. Why the hell has this story not been pushed outside the industry? Most people agreed it should have been. A few felt it was ‘old news’, with a push from the IEA, and Avaaz last  summer demanding an ‘end to fossil fuel subsidies’ (#endfossilfuelsubsidies). This off the back of their alarming ‘World Energy Outlook’ reports of  2011 and 2012.

I’m not convinced. On the Sunday night before the event, in an entirely social setting, I met a wire reporter on the energy beat. She lambasted renewables for draining the public purse with excessive subsidies. I truly wish I’d had the IEA’s numbers to hand.

When one looks at the standard criticisms of renewables, the economic argument rides highest. It’s a numbers game. And we, the people fighting for the renewables cause, need to play much, much more aggressively. The reality is that the IEA has called for a 2015 deadline to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies, but we’re way off track.  G20 nations are failing to live up to the pledge made a few years ago following pressure from Obama and, according to Oil Change International, in the US fossil fuel companies are currently getting $59 in subsidies for each $1 they donate to election campaigns.

It’s great to see Friends of the Earth tackling the issue through its ‘oil bonanza’ campaign this week, Osborne providing almost £1 billion of tax breaks for UK oil and gas, but I feel that the renewables industry needs to really turn its full resources on this fight. There are some brilliant renewables communications professionals and some great campaigns in the offing, but they are all suffering and will continue to suffer for the same reason – lack of investment.

I wonder what it will take to turn the tide and solve this issue. In the meantime, have you signed up to #endfossilfuelsubsidies?

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