Energy subsidies are among the most pervasive, and most controversial fiscal policy tools in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). In a region with few functioning social welfare systems, subsidized energy prices continue to form an important social safety net, albeit a highly costly and inefficient one. In the MENA region's oil and gas producers, low energy prices have also historically formed an important element of an unwritten social contract, where governments extracted their countries' hydrocarbon riches in return for citizens' participation in sharing resource rents.
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.
Analysis of the Scope of Energy Subsidies and Suggestions for the G-20 Initiative (and Related Documents)
This joint report to the G20 Finance Ministers and Leaders was issued by the IEA, OPEC, OECD and World Bank in response to a request by G20 Leaders when they met in Pittsburgh in September 2009. At that time, leaders agreed to “rationalize and phase out over the medium term inefficient fossil fuel subsidies that encourage wasteful consumption” and asked the study authors to jointly provide "an analysis of the scope of energy subsidies and suggestions for the implementation of this G20 country initiative”.