Rio+20 Side-Event: Overcoming the barriers to subsidy reform for a greener economy

By Kerryn Lang (Editor) on July 24, 2012

RIO DE JANEIRO - 19 June 2012 - Each year, enormous sums are spent on subsidies that undermine sustainable development.

Globally, over US$ 2 billion is spent each day subsidizing fossil fuels, agriculture and fisheries. Subsidies to fossil fuels undermine global efforts to combat catastrophic climate change, and are widely acknowledged as an ineffective instrument for supporting the poor. Subsidies to agriculture encourage over-production and are enormously trade distorting. And subsidies to fisheries have contributed to the depletion of fish stocks, the majority of which are over-exploited.

But despite the harm that many subsidies do to the environment, social equity and economic growth, they are notoriously difficult to reform. Members of the G-20 and APEC committed to phase out inefficient fossil-fuel subsidies in 2009, yet most countries have not taken strong measures to achieve the pledge. Meanwhile, the WTO Doha Round has been grappling with reform of agricultural and fisheries subsidies for over a decade. Subsidy reform is featured on the negotiating agenda for Rio+20 but with a very uncertain outcome.

This event brought together leading experts from fisheries, agriculture and energy sectors to discuss what the major barriers are to subsidy reform, how these can be overcome and who the critical actors are to affect change at Rio and beyond. Discussion questions included:

  • How to overcome the North-South divide on subsidy reform priorities?
  • What useful lessons can be shared between subsidy reform efforts in the agriculture, fisheries and energy sector?
  • What is the role of multilateral cooperation on subsidy reform?




Session moderator:

  • Mark Halle, Executive Director, IISD-Europe


  • Moustapha Kamal Gueye, Economics and Trade Branch, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)
  • Professor Rashid Sumaila, University of British Colombia
  • Ammad Bahalim, International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development
  • Steve Kretzmann, Executive Director and Founder, Oil Change International

Report details

Climate Change Mitigation
Focus area
IISD, 2012