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The devil lies in the definition : competing approaches to fossil fuel subsidies at the IMF and the OECD

  • Jakob Skovgaard
Publishing year: 2017-03-24
Language: English
Publication/Series: International Environmental Agreements: Politics, Law and Economics
Document type: Journal article
Publisher: Springer

Abstract english

Fossil fuel subsidy reform has in recent years been addressed by international economic organizations including the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). The two organizations have differed significantly in how they define fossil fuel subsidies. The IMF’s definition constitutes a radical break with previous definitions by including environmental externalities, while the OECD’s is more conventional. The article explores the factors that explain why these international economic organizations have approached fossil fuel subsidies so differently. The exact definition of fossil fuel subsidies is contested. Furthermore, fossil fuels subsidies can be framed in ways that emphasize, respectively, their macroeconomic, fiscal, environmental, and distributive consequences. The article finds that institutional interaction lifted OECD involvement in fossil fuel subsidies to a new level, whereas the impetus to address fossil fuel subsidies within the IMF came largely from the IMF staff. In both cases, the organization’s bureaucracy constituted the most important factor shaping how the organizations addressed such subsidies and hence the main reason why they differ in how they approach fossil fuel subsidies.


  • Political Science (excluding Public Administration Studies and Globalization Studies)
  • Bureaucratic politics
  • Fossil fuel subsidies
  • IMF
  • Institutional interaction
  • OECD
  • Subsidy reform


  • ISSN: 1567-9764
Jakob Skovgaard
E-mail: jakob [dot] skovgaard [at] svet [dot] lu [dot] se


Department of Political Science

+46 46 222 97 76



Senior Lecturer

Jakob holds a PhD from the European University Institute in Florence, and prior to joining the Department he worked in the international climate change team at the Danish Ministry of Finance including during the COP15 climate conference in Copenhagen.

Research Environment

Department of Political Science
Lund University
Visiting address: Paradisgatan 5H (House: Eden)
Postal address: Box 52, SE-221 00 LUND
Telephone: +46 46-222 89 52

Faculty of Social Sciences