Subsidies, as a rule, distort financial incentives and leave the economy less efficient. Subsidies on fossil fuels are doubly foolish: They also divert investment and consumption from cleaner energy, and cost taxpayers a bundle.

Yet last year, for all the talk from world leaders about cutting greenhouse-gas emissions, the richest nations spent more on subsidies for coal, oil and natural gas than they did a decade ago. Those subsidies – a mix of direct spending and tax breaks – amounted to $65 billion among the 34 members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, and another $103 billion in China, India, Brazil and other large countries outside the OECD.

Developed countries have made some progress: Their fossil-fuel subsidies have inched downward for each of the past three years.

But inertia remains a problem. About two-thirds of the individual subsidies have been in place since before 2000. Times change, and so should policies. When people and businesses need incentives to use less fossil fuels, it makes no sense for taxpayers to give them an advantage in the marketplace.

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