File this one under “news that ought to be the top headline across the world but will likely be ignored.”

An early draft of a comprehensive new study from the International Energy Agency reveals that total global subsidies to dirty fossil-fuel energy amount to $550 billion a year — about 75 percent more than previously thought.

The Financial Times got a peak at the draft and covers it today, soliciting this absolutely fabulous quote from chief IEA economist Faith Birol: “I see fossil fuel subsidies as the appendicitis of the global energy system, which needs to be removed for a healthy, sustainable development future.” I’m stealing that one.

Not only would removing these subsidies move us closer to the “free market” conservatives are fond of pretending we already have, it would immediately reduce energy use and carbon pollution:

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The IEA estimates that energy consumption could be reduced by 850m tonnes equivalent of oil — or the combined current consumption of Japan, South Korea, Australia, and New Zealand — if the subsidies are phased out between now and 2020. The consumption cut would save the equivalent of the current carbon dioxide emissions of Germany, France, the U.K., Italy, and Spain.

Given the dim prospects of a serious cap on carbon, it seems to me that in the wake of the oil spill greens ought to be putting way more emphasis on removing these subsidies. Obama signed the statement at the G20 pledging to reduce them and reiterated that sentiment in his speech last week. It would be a crucial first step in unwinding the century-plus worth of advantages the fossil-fuel industry has accrued over its clean competitors.

Oil companies battle the removal of these subsidies by calling them “new taxes.” But oil companies aren’t very popular right now. When will there ever be a better time?

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