In interactive infographic is shedding light on the social and political pressures that stand in the way of reducing fossil fuel subsidies.
The amount governments spend to prop up fossil fuels is a subject of much debate. The International Monetary Fund put the figure at US $5.3 trillion, after factoring in what countries pay for the health and environmental damage that fossil production leaves behind. The International Energy Agency estimated that subsidies amounted to $513 billion in 2013, versus $129 billion for renewables. Oil Change International and its research partners have estimated that the G20 nations alone lavished $71.8 billion per year on fossil projects between 2013 and 2015, four times the amount they invested in renewable energy. That group of leading economies has repeatedly declared a desire to end such subsidies, but has ducked setting deadlines for the task.
Bloomberg’s map of gasoline costs around the world highlights some of the reasons why. It allows readers to switch among views showing not only the pump price per U.S. gallon for gasoline in 61 different countries, but how affordable that gallon is in relation to local incomes, and how much of their income residents of each nation spend on gasoline.
Because oil is a global commodity traded in a global market, the base cost of refined gasoline is broadly the same everywhere. So variations in pump prices are almost entirely a matter of governments’ choices to either tax or subsidize the fuel. Bloomberg’s infographic illustrates the variety of outcomes, and hints at the complicated political calculations involved in eliminating them.
The lowest price at the pump is Venezuela’s, at $0.01 (yes, a single U.S. penny) per gallon, yet any move to raise the heavily subsidized price could prove explosive in that troubled country. Norway comes in at the top end, at more than $7 a gallon. While Venezuelans can buy a gallon of gas for about 0.1% of an average daily wage, Norwegians spend 4.2% of theirs to buy the same volume, one reason they may not resist their government’s plan to stop selling gasoline cars entirely by 2025.
Canada’s average gas price of US$3.45 per gallon was only slightly below China’s $3.56 at the time Bloomberg collected its data. That represented 2.87% of an average Canadian daily wage; a Chinese consumer pays more than 15% of their average wage for the same gallon. Yet reflecting much wider car ownership, higher incomes, and car-friendly urban designs, Canadians spend a far bigger share of their incomes on auto fuel than do Chinese: 2.53%, compared to 0.43%.