Act Local, Solve Global: The $5.3 Trillion Energy Subsidy Problem


By Benedict Clements and Vitor Gaspar

(Versions in 中文, Français日本語Русский and Español)

US$5.3 trillion; 6½ percent of global GDP—that is our latest reckoning of the cost of energy subsidies in 2015. These estimates are shocking. The figure likely exceeds government health spending across the world, estimated by the World Health Organization at 6 percent of global GDP, but for the different year of 2013. They correspond to one of the largest negative externality ever estimated. They have global relevance. And that’s not all: earlier work by the IMF also shows that these subsidies have adverse effects on economic efficiency, growth, and inequality.

What are energy subsidies

We define energy subsidies as the difference between what consumers pay for energy and its “true costs,” plus a country’s normal value added or sales  tax rate. These “true costs” of energy consumption include its supply costs and the damage that energy consumption inflicts on people and the environment. These damages, in turn, come from carbon emissions and hence global warming; the health effects of air pollution; and the effects on traffic congestion, traffic accidents, and road damage. Most of these externalities are borne by local populations, with the global warming component of energy subsidies  only a fourth of the total (Chart 1).

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Subsidies—Love Them or Hate Them, It’s Better to Target Them


By Masood Ahmed

(Version in عربي)

For decades, countries in the Middle East and North Africa have relied heavily on food and fuel price subsidies as a form of social protection. And, understandably, governments have recently raised subsidies in response to hikes in global commodity prices and regional political developments.

Like many things, there may be a time and a place for using subsidies.But, they need to be better targeted. And, often, there will be better alternatives. Alternatives that do a better job of protecting the poor. Continue reading

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