Assessing the impacts of SDGs: The case of fossil fuel subsidy reform

J. Skovgaard, H.D. van Asselt

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperAcademic


The policies targeted by the SDGs were subject to frequent changes already before the adoption of the goals in 2015, and this will continue to be the case in the future. Such changes can be driven by domestic factors (for example, civil society acting as norm entrepreneurs) as well as by international factors (for example, international regimes). This raises the vexed question of how to isolate the effects of the SDGs from other factors driving policy change. We develop a framework for studying the influence of SDGs on domestic fossil fuel subsidy reform. In virtually all countries, fossil fuels are subsidised, e.g., through price controls, tax breaks and the provision of infrastructure. Existing research has shown that fossil fuel subsidy reform has hitherto mainly been driven by domestic (economic) factors, with pressure from international economic institutions often playing an important subsidiary role. International environmental institutions have traditionally not paid much attention to these subsidies. Yet with SDG 12.c committing all countries to undertaking efforts to rationalise inefficient fossil fuel subsidies, this dynamic may change. To study the influence of SDG 12.c, our framework first identifies major changes to fossil fuel subsidies drawing on data from the OECD as well as civil society sources. Second, we outline the pathways through which SDG 12.c may induce major policy change to fossil fuel subsidies, specifically norm diffusion, learning from other countries or reputational costs. An illustrative case study of Indian fossil fuel subsidy reform underscores the contribution of our framework and its usefulness for other scholars studying the impact of the SDGs (and other global goals) on domestic policy.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2020
EventInternational SDG Research Symposium Global Goals 2020 -
Duration: 9 Jun 202011 Jun 2020


ConferenceInternational SDG Research Symposium Global Goals 2020


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