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Podcast: Why we should end fossil fuel subsidies

Published on 23 February 2023

In this episode of the IDS Between the Lines podcast, IDS Fellow Lars Otto Naess interviews Dr Neil McCulloch, Associate Fellow at IDS and Director of The Policy Practice about his new book: Ending Fossil Fuel Subsidies: The politics of saving the planet.

Propane and Butane LPG (liquefied Petroleum gas) refill station with some distribution trucks and big tanks owned by Pertamina national oil company in Yogyakarta, Indonesia.
Image: Shutterstock

In the podcast, Neil argues that fossil fuel subsidies are killing both people and the planet, because they encourage the excessive consumption of fossil fuels – which exacerbates pollution and climate change and wastes huge sums that could be used far better.

Neil lays out a new agenda for action on fossil fuel subsidies, showing how a better understanding of the underlying political incentives can lead to more effective approaches to tackling this major global problem.

This podcast is essential listening for all studying and researching climate change, green transformations and climate justice.

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About the author

Dr. Neil McCulloch is a development economist with expertise in political economy analysis and the design and implementation of politically smart aid programmes. He is currently Director of The Policy Practice.

He was the Project Director of the Facility for Oil Sector Transparency (FOSTER) in Nigeria – a project that aims to “think and work politically” to achieve fundamental reform in the oil sector.  He has also done extensive work on the political economy of fuel subsidies, both in Indonesia and Nigeria, and the political economy of aid for power sector reform in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

Previously, Dr. McCulloch was the Director of the Economic Policy Program at Oxford Policy Management and, before that, the Lead Economist of the Australian Aid program in Indonesia. He has also led the Globalisation Research Team in the Institute of Development Studies in the UK and was a Senior Economist for the World Bank in Indonesia.

About the interviewer

Dr Lars Otto Naess is a social scientist with more than 15 years experience with climate change, development and agriculture. His current research interests include social and institutional dimensions of adaptation to climate change, policy processes on climate change and agriculture at national and sub-national levels, the role of local knowledge for adaptation to climate change, and adaptation planning in the context of international development. Much of his recent work has focused on Africa, in particular Tanzania, Kenya, Malawi and Ethiopia.

About the book

By encouraging excessive consumption of fossil fuels, subsidies exacerbate pollution and climate change, make violent protests more likely, and waste huge sums that could be used far better. Yet for years there has been minimal progress in eliminating fossil fuel subsidies. This book explains what fossil fuel subsidies are, how they inflict harm and what steps are being taken to reduce them. It also shows why subsidies persist and why existing efforts have been so ineffective.

Drawing lessons from countries which have tried to remove fossil fuel subsidies, it explains that the fundamental challenge to reform is not technical, but political.

The catastrophic Covid-19 pandemic and the tragic war in Ukraine illustrate that fossil fuel subsidy reform will only succeed where it supports the achievement of things that really matter politically – energy security, protection from climate change, better air quality, and resources to improve people’s lives.

The book is available to read for free from the Practical Action publishing website.

Read the book

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