While a New York political leader urges a tax on traffic …
UN urges phase out of energy subsidies to help poor
Watch the chorus grow as the UN sings in harmony along with the Speaker of the Assembly of the State of New York. We trim, blend, and append two 2008 good-news articles, one from the Associated Press by Arthur Max of Aug 26 and the other from the Downtown Express of Lower Manhattan by Rogers & Shapiro of Aug 15-21.
Max: Governments spend as much as $300 billion (205 billion euros) a year to keep fuel prices low or to help producers, money that often is wasted and fails to help the poor, the UN Environment Program said.
Cheap energy encourages people to consume more and discourages efficiency. It delays the transition from dirty energy to more climate-friendly sources of power, said the UNEP report. Shutting off energy subsidies would reduce carbon emissions by as much as 6 percent, said Kaveh Zahedi, UNEP's climate change coordinator, while attending a 160-nation conference aimed at drafting a new treaty to contain global warming.
Subsidies "don't always help the poor who need it most," and often benefit wealthy households, Zahedi said. "Some countries spend more on subsidizing oil than they do on health and education combined."
Low electricity prices don't help villages that are not connected to the grid, and poor families consume only modest amounts of fuel, it said.
The country spending the most in energy subsidies is gas-rich Russia, with $40 billion (27 billion euros) a year. Oil-exporting Iran is second, spending $37 billion (25 billion euros), while Saudi Arabia is among the top five.
Some African countries are known to spend all the foreign development aid they received to cover the increase in fuel prices, which may be politically popular but economically damaging.
"In the final analysis many fossil fuel subsidies are introduced for political reasons but are simply propping up and perpetuating inefficiencies in the global economy," said UNEP director Achim Steiner, who also is a UN undersecretary general.
In a statement released with the report, Steiner advised governments to "urgently review their energy subsidies and begin phasing out the harmful ones."
The report said money could be used instead for programs that support low income families more directly and should be targeted to promote green energy, such as wind or solar.
The conference in the Ghanaian capital is the third session this year working on the details of a climate change accord to succeed the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012.
Scientists say the emission of carbon and other greenhouse gases, mostly from fossil fuels, must peak within 10 to 15 years and then drop sharply to avoid potentially catastrophic changes in the climate.
JJS: Public revenue could “support low income families more directly”, even all families, if government would recover all the money we spend on the nature we use and from that pool pay dividends to citizens, a la Alaska’s oil dividend. As a rule, public spending should benefit “the general welfare” in the words of the US Constitution, not special interests. And just as ending subsidies for over-use is a good part of the solution, so is starting up taxes upon over-use.
Rogers & Shapiro: New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver feels the heat of this summer’s race. When asked if congestion pricing had a chance to pass, he said, “Yes. No question -- as part of a comprehensive plan in how you do things … Maybe a more limited zone.”
Silver did not go into the specifics of how much smaller he wanted the congestion pricing zone to be.
Silver said he has faith in an old Metro Transit Authority leader, Richard Ravitch, whom the governor appointed to head a commission to come up with ways for the authority to close its $14 billion capital budget gap. Ravitch told the New York Times two weeks ago that he was “very” seriously considering New York Mayor Bloomberg’s traffic pricing plan.
JJS: In one of those “well, duh” findings, where cities -- Singapore, London, and Stockholm -- do charge tolls on driving into downtowns during the most popular hours, there is less traffic, hence less exhaust, and less stress upon the environment.
Jeffery J. Smith runs the Forum on Geonomics.
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