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Carbon pricing to raise trillions needed to tackle climate crisis, says IMF

Diverting the trillions of dollars by which the world subsidises fossil fuel production each year, and putting an implicit price on carbon emissions, would generate the vast amounts of cash needed to tackle the climate crisis, the head of the International Monetary Fund has said.

Governments have been put off explicitly pricing carbon by the potential unpopularity of new carbon taxes, which have become favourite targets of anti-climate politicians and parties around the world, from the US and Australia to Europe and the UK.

Kristalina Georgieva, the managing director of the IMF, said it was possible to achieve the same result – of making high-carbon activities reflect their true costs to society – using regulation, and by cutting the bad subsidies that encourage fossil-fuel use.

“We have been slow on a very important policy thought, which is the incentive for investors by still tolerating high levels of fossil-fuel subsidies,” she told the Guardian in an interview. “And [the world has made this worse] by being still fairly slow on introducing carbon pricing, and giving a trajectory for this carbon price upward.”

Monday was finance and trade day at the UN Cop28 climate summit in Dubai, with governments, finance institutions and private sector investors discussing new initiatives to help find the trillions needed to shift the world to a low-carbon economy. There were few substantial announcements of new cash, however, as most governments had made their contributions to the loss and damage fund, now standing at around $700m (£556m), in the first week of the conference.

Studies by prominent economists have shown that trillions are needed around the world each year in investment in renewable energy and other low-carbon technology – for instance, Lord Nicholas Stern and Vera Songwe found that developing countries alone, excluding China, will need more than $2tn (£1.6tn) a year by 2030, to cut emissions and cope with the impact of extreme weather. These sums seem huge, but are relatively small in the context of a global economy that is worth about $450tn (£358tn).

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