Governments across the G20 countries are estimated to be spending $88 billion every year subsidising exploration for fossil fuels. Their exploration subsidies marry bad economics with potentially disastrous consequences for climate change. In effect, governments are propping up the development of oil, gas and coal reserves that cannot be exploited if the world is to avoid dangerous climate change.
Fossil fuel subsidies have allowed energy exporting countries to distribute resource revenue, bolstering legitimacy for governments, many of which are not democratically elected. But subsidy benefits are dwarfed by the harmful consequences of encouraging uneconomic use of energy. Now, with consumption posing a threat to long-term exports, governments face a heightened need to raise prices that have come to be viewed as entitlements.
The policy of maintaining tight control of domestic energy prices has characterized the political and economic environment in most Arab countries, together with many other parts of the world, for decades. The objectives behind such a policy range from overall welfare objectives such as expanding energy access and protecting poor households’ incomes; to economic development objectives such as fostering industrial growth and smoothing domestic consumption; and to political considerations, including the distribution of oil and natural gas rents in resource-rich countries.