It has long been said of renewable energy sources that they cannot survive without subsides. But the dirty secret of fossil fuels is that they, too, receive tax payer support—even in environmentally friendly Europe.
On Wednesday, the European Commission, the executive branch of the European Union, announced that state subsidies for loss-making coal mines should end within four years.
In the meantime, support for mines will only continue if those mines have detailed closure plans that meet the 2014 deadline.
In total, European governments paid out 3.2 billion euro in subsidies to coal in 2008, according to the Financial Times. The industry is responsible for just 2.5 percent of world hard coal production, and Europe is increasingly relying on renewable energy, but the industry still provides needed jobs in economically depressed areas of Europe. In a politically-fraught debate leading up to Wednesday’s decision, politicians in favor of continuing subsidies warned that without subsidies around 100,000 jobs would be lost. Mines receiving operating support are mainly in north-west Spain, Romania’s Jiu Valley and Germany’s Ruhr region, although such mines also exist in Poland, Hungary and Slovakia.
The announcement was welcomed by European environmental groups, who have lobbied hard over the past few months to thwart a draft document circulated earlier this summer that suggested continuing subsidies until 2023. ‘Today’s draft law is a significant improvement on earlier drafts. The Commission has stood up to complacent attitudes and acted in the broader European interest,’ Mark Johnston, Senior Policy Adviser at WWFs European Policy Office, said in a prepared statement on the organization’s website. ‘Public money must be directed rapidly towards making the green economy flourish and providing genuine climate and energy security.’
But while the Commission’s decision was hailed as a victory, environmentalists are still smarting about the recent G-20 conference in Toronto, at which nations restated old pledges to curb subsidies for fossil fuels instead of offering new targets or commitments. In total, G-20 nations still hand out subsidies worth about $100 billion annually to the fossil fuel industry, according to a Greenpeace report cited by Nytimes.com.