Subscribe for 4 yearly issues of Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way – free of charge.

By clicking on "Sign up" you consent to being a subscriber to our online magazine. Our policy is never to share our subscribers' personal details with anybody else. You will be given the option of unsubscribing again every time you receive an email from us.

Thank you – you are almost finished

We need to confirm your email address. To complete the subscription process, please click the link in the mail we just sent you.

Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way
WEB MAGAZINE - November 2017

Nordic countries push the switch – from fossil fuel subsidies to sustainable energy investment

Nordic PMs prioritise fossil fuel subsidy reform
When the Nordic Prime Ministers launched their joint initiative Nordic Solutions to Global Challenges in April 2017, fossil fuel subsidy reform was presented as a key priority of Nordic Climate Solutions, alongside Nordic Green to Scale, an initiative that explores the potential of scaling up 15 existing climate solutions by 2030. To put the magnitude of fossil fuel subsidies into context, these solutions could reduce emissions by 4.1Gt in 2030 at a cost equal to a mere nine days of the current global fossil fuel subsidies.

“USD 425 billion is a huge amount, which could be used much more wisely,”

says Laura Merrill
of the IISD’s Global Subsidies Initiative (GSI).

Most of the amount, USD 325 billion, is spent on consumer subsidies aimed at keeping the price of fossil fuels down, while the remaining USD 100 billion are government subsidies that keep costs of production artificially low.

“It’s worth noting that there’s still a large energy access gap that hasn’t been filled, despite these subsidies,” Merrill points out.

“Fossil fuel subsidies are inefficient at targeting support for, for example, people in poverty and women in developing countries, and in delivering efficient energy access.”

The switch – using reform savings to promote sustainable energy
The Nordic countries’ approach to fossil fuel subsidy reform focuses not only on the emissions reduction potential and economic savings of phasing out harmful subsidies, but also the positive effects governments can achieve by reinvesting the savings.

“Countries often use the savings from fossil fuel subsidy reform to provide other compensation subsidies or support mechanisms, or invest them in welfare state services, such as education and healthcare,”

says Hans Jakob Eriksen,
Special Adviser at the Danish Ministry of Energy, Utilities and Climate.

“While this is entirely legitimate, we encourage them to redirect some of these subsidies towards sustainable energy systems – renewable energy and energy efficiency.”

Previous research conducted by GSI for the Nordic Council of Ministers modelled the emissions-saving potential of fossil fuel subsidy reform in 20 countries, showing that they could reduce their national GHG emissions by an average of 11% by 2020. These reductions would be even greater if the savings were invested in sustainable energy measures.

“By redirecting the savings into sustainable energy, we would increase the mitigation potential and the emissions saved,” Eriksen explains. “As an additional benefit, we would become more decoupled from future increases in oil prices, which would substantially enhance the long-term sustainability of the energy system.”

From political intentions to implementation
Nordic countries are members of the Friends of Fossil Fuel Subsidy Reform (FFFSR), a group of countries committed to promoting global political consensus on the importance of the issue. In 2015, the group launched the Fossil Fuel Subsidy Reform Communiqué, which recognises reform as “an important climate change mitigation policy with clear economic, social and environmental co-benefits”. Forty-three countries and many businesses and organisations, including OECD, IEA and the World Bank, have endorsed the Communiqué

“Gathering global political support is still an important part of our work,” says Eriksen. “Currently, however, our focus is shifting towards actual implementation – providing advice on the steps that countries need to take to reform their subsidies. One of the obstacles is that there’s virtually no international standard on how to review these subsidies.”

In June 2017, the Nordic Council of Ministers published Making the Switch a report written by researchers at IISD’s Global Subsidies Initiative and Gaia Consulting. The report describes the concept of switching savings from fossil fuel subsidy reform towards sustainable energy, energy efficiency, and safety nets.

“It also provides potential switch outlines for Bangladesh, Indonesia, Morocco and Zambia,” says Merrill. “We’ve created roadmaps to help these countries identify their subsidies and the reforms that could take place, and where they could reinvest the savings to bring down emissions and help finance their energy transition needs.”

Cost-effective green transition in the Nordic region
According to Merrill, the research also demonstrates areas in which Nordic countries have successfully introduced government policies to encourage the transition to sustainable energy, including incentives to shift households towards heat pumps in Sweden, Norway’s push to promote electric vehicles, and integration of wind energy in the Danish energy system. These examples, and many others, are described in more detail in the report

Learning from Leaders , which looks at Nordic and international best practice regarding fossil fuel subsidy reform

“All Nordic countries are fully aware of the kind of subsidies they have and how they could be removed and used for better purposes,” says Erikson. “This is the result of a long tradition of an intergovernmental process to analyse and structure incentive schemes, identify mitigation potentials across all sectors, and finding the most cost-effective ways to mitigate emissions.

“Sharing this knowledge with other countries would be highly beneficial,” he continues. “This process and the ways in which the analysis plays into political decision making has enabled us to steer the green transition in cost-effective ways, without compromising economic growth.”

Photos: Johannes Jansson/
and Sigurður Ólafsson/