Energy Subsidies in the Arab World
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.
While energy subsidies may be seen as achieving some of a country’s objectives, this paper argues they are a costly and inefficient way of doing so. Energy subsidies distort price signals, with serious implications on efficiency and the optimal allocation of resources. Energy subsidies also tend to be regressive, with high-income households and industries benefiting proportionately most from low energy prices. This paper recognizes that the current political climate in the region will render the reform of domestic energy prices difficult in practice, such that reform may indeed be a medium- to long-term endeavour.
The Arab Human Development Report Research Paper Series is a medium for sharing recent research commissioned to inform the Arab Human Development Report, and further research in the field of human development. The AHDR Research Paper Series is a quick-disseminating, informal publication whose titles could subsequently be revised for publication as articles in professional journals or chapters in books. The authors include leading academics and practitioners from the Arab countries and around the world. The findings, interpretations and conclusions are strictly those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of UNDP or United Nations Member States. The present paper was authored by Bassam Fattouh and Laura El-Katiri.