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EU's candidate climate chief takes aim at fossil fuel subsidies

(Reuters) - Former Dutch foreign minister Wopke Hoekstra, who is nominated to be the EU's new head of climate change policy, plans to act to phase out fossil fuel subsidies if he takes up the role, a document seen by Reuters showed.

Hoekstra faces a three-hour hearing in the EU Parliament on Monday, after which lawmakers will decide whether to give him the job of running emissions-cutting policies in the world's third-largest economy.

A document seen by Reuters showed Hoekstra's responses to questions EU lawmakers have posed ahead of his hearing indicate he plans to crack down on fossil fuel subsidies.

"Fossil fuels subsidies, especially over the long run, are a good example of a policy that doesn’t fit with our efforts to decarbonize our economy and society. I am fully committed to pursue additional actions to phase out fossil fuel subsidies," he said.

The European Commission has so far struggled to encourage EU member states to do this.

EU countries spent around 52 billion euros ($54.97 billion) on fossil fuel subsidies in 2021 - an annual total that has not declined since 2015, EU Environment Agency data show.

A former Dutch finance minister, Hoekstra said he would also attempt to finish a reform to make EU tax rules more climate-friendly, for example by ending tax exemptions for polluting jet fuel. Talks among EU countries on the reform are at an impasse.

If approved, his term as EU climate chief would run until after EU Parliament elections next June. Before then, he said he will take a stance on what the EU should set as its 2040 emissions-cutting target.

Hoekstra would also represent the 27-country EU in negotiations at this year's UN COP28 climate summit in Dubai - where he said he would work to get deals to ensure global emissions peak by 2025, to triple renewable energy capacity by 2030, and phase out CO2-emitting fossil fuels.

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