WTO members to target fossil fuel subsidies, plastic

Dozens of countries pledged on Wednesday to intensify efforts to get rid of fossil fuel subsidies and tackle plastics pollution in an effort spearheaded by the World Trade Organization (WTO).

The European Union and Britain, but none of the other principal global polluters, were among 45 signatories to a WTO ministerial statement  pledging to “seek the rationalisation and phase out of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies”.

US climate envoy John Kerry said last month that trillions of dollars had been spent on subsidising fossil fuels in recent years, labelling the practice “the definition of insanity”.

The WTO statement said ending the subsidies — which can be tax breaks or payments for companies, or measures that cut fuel prices for consumers — would “effectively contribute” to efforts to keep increases in the global temperature below two degrees Celsius.

China, Russia and the EU — but not the United States — were among 67 signatories pledging to reduce the usage of harmful plastics by ramping up efforts around recycling and development of alternative materials.

A third statement backed by 71 countries including the US and China agreed to intensify work to “expand opportunities for environmentally sustainable trade in an inclusive and transparent way”.

WTO chief Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said on Wednesday the three statements were “truly a historic moment” for her organisation and called on ministers to back up their words with actions.

“There’s too much at stake for us to wait decades more for results,” she said.

The text of all three statements encourages other WTO members to join, with EU trade commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis saying they send a “strong political signal”.